[OPE-L:944] Examples and texts

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Sun, 4 Feb 1996 08:56:12 -0800

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On the Interpretation of the Texts

This continues 'Numerical examples' but takes up a distinct
point about how Marx's texts are interpreted

For all the reasons given in the previous post, and as a general
procedural question (and this is addressed to all and sundry,
not Mike and Fred), I think it insufficient to say 'here is
what Marx says and here is what it means, so you're wrong'.
Because, first, you have to see if the interpretation is
consistent, and second whether it is justified to ascribe it to

And the *first* of these questions comes first. Not the second.
This, for me, is the difference between scientific enquiry and

What I believe has to be done, by those interested in this
debate, is to look without prejudice at the problems
highlighted by the examples I have given - or any other examples
which anyone cares to throw in - and simply ask the
following question: how do *I* (the reader) resolve them? Do
*I* have an interpretation which makes sense of them?

This question should be addressed, not in the first instance to
Marx, but to your model. If this model is an interpretation of
Marx, and you find that it leads to contradiction, then there
are two conclusions you may draw: that Marx is wrong, or that
Marx didn't say what you thought he said. But first you have to
ask how your interpretation fits with the real world: here
represented by these awkward and annoying examples.

Not how it fits with Marx. That comes second.

What you *cannot* do, is to *start* from the question, does my
interpretation square with the texts? You must first ask
whether your interpretation stands on its own two feet, with or
without the texts. These examples are a perfectly reasonable
simplification of something that happens in the real world. And
our job is to explain the real world.

What I also think you cannot do, is refuse to study the
examples, because you find that they do not allow you to
interpret Marx in the way you want. This is what I mean by
scholasticism. I'm sorry if the examples make anyone
uncomfortable but we have to face up to them and try and make
sense of them, just as for the last twenty years we have all
had to face up to Ian Steedman's examples and make sense of
them. Otherwise, we will be in the same position as the priests
who refused to use Galileo's telescope: we are saying that we
don't want to be blinded by the facts.

So it is not enough to have a set of citations, and an
interpretation, a la Thomas Aquinas. If we want to proceed
scientifically we must also ask three questions, and in the
correct order:

does the interpretation make sense? I.e. can it explain
given numerical examples, and what I find empirically in the
world, without contradiction?

if the interpretation fails to make sense of the examples,
independent of what Marx says, what *is* consistent and what
*does* work? The numerical examples I have submitted
demonstrate that there is a problem, I would say insurmountable,
with the simultaneous equation approach to Marx. But the same
applies to the simultaneous equation approach to anything, be
it general equilibrium, the Fundamental Marxian Theorem, Sraffa,
or whatever. If you test these approaches on my examples, they
break down or lead to absurdity. Can the simultaneous method be
'repaired' to make sense of these examples? If not, *all*
simultaneism has to go: not just the simultaneist interpretation
of Marx, whether or not Marx actually espoused it.

is the interpretation Marx's? Particularly if the answer to (B)
is that the interpretation leads to irrepairable contradiction:
is said contradiction indissolubly linked to Marx's own
approach, or does it arise from your application of this
approach, or from assumptions you have added to his approach to
which he does not subscribe? Can it be resolved by relaxing any
of these assumptions? Which breaks down into three sub

(Ci) is your interpretation of Marx textually valid (so, for
example, I draw attention to the word 'existing' in all
Fred's citations: when outputs emerge, excuse me, but the
inputs which have been incorporated in these outputs *don't*
exist; so to say the least, this interpretation is
problematic even textually)

(Cii) is it the *only* interpretation possible? The sequential
interpretation is an alternative and is completely
compatible with the texts; so no-one is entitled to conclude
that the texts settle the matter, *even* if they hold the
'standard' interpretation to be valid. Also, note that
Fred's interpretation is *not* (to my relief) the standard
interpretation, since the standard model does indeed assume
that the socially necessary labour time is equal to the most
productive available technique regardless of the volume of
production of this technique. There is thus an entire range
of interpretations and it is insufficient to say 'here's the
quotes, here's the meaning, end of debate'. This method of
debate went out with the monasteries, or should have done.

(Ciii) if there is more than one interpretation, which of them
squares best with the *rest* of what Marx says? I cited
Marx's clear view in Chapter 6 of Volume III which indicates
that stocks enter the social averaging process. This
*already* rules out the standard interpretation which prices
and values inputs independent of the volume of stocks. Fred
has clarified that these citations are not incompatible with
his interpretation. I am confident that, if we follow
through on this agreement, we will rapidly discover that
simultaneous equations cannot represent what (Fred and
ourselves agree) Marx actually says. And therefore the
difference equation approach maybe has more to offer than you
may realise: because it just might be that there ain't no

So therefore I don't think the first step is to establish
whether these or any other examples expose a contradiction
in Marx or not.

For me the first thing to get clear is whether they establish an
insurmountable problem in the method employed - in the case of my
examples the use of simultaneous equations - in any goddamn
framework you like.

I would be happy to concede that the examples sure as hell
expose a contradiction in the way Marx is generally explained.

If anyone wants to sustain this also exposes a contradiction in Marx,
and I want to sustain it doesn't, we don't need to resolve our
differences at this point unless you insist on presenting your
solution as the negation of a solution you ascribe to Marx
before the prior discussion has taken place.

I think the first step is to come up with coherent solutions
within the very general framework of objective value theory
(including, eg, PostKeynesianism). This will establish the
general parameters of the possible ways in which the
contradictions can be overcome.

This is certainly what brought me to the entire arcane discussion
of what Marx really said. Once I was a happy lad, I only studied
Marx on the (rare) nights there were no meetings to go to, I
whistled while I worked and I made a simulation based on the old
Man's axioms. The damn thing worked, and upheld Marx's conclusions.
Then I went back and checked to see whether the model checked out
with what the Old Man actually said, and was gratified to find it

Only then did I discover an entire subculture (in which, BTW
and to clarify an earlier source of distress, I do *not*
classify Mike's published work) devoted to proving that Marx said
something completely different to what he did, in order to show
he was wrong.

Only then, also, did I discover that many other people had come
to the same conclusion as myself, before me, and been blotted
out of academic history for fifteen years.

All of which made me think very hard; much harder than working
out the goddamn theory: that was the easy bit.