[OPE-L:1001] Re: Reply to SImon

S.Mohun (S.Mohun@qmw.ac.uk)
Thu, 8 Feb 1996 04:22:29 -0800

[ show plain text ]

Alan writes (in 914):

>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.

>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.
> 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

I remain unconvinced that Alan's argument is a correct interpretation of
what Marx actually wrote. Here are some more examples from Vol 1 chs 1-3
(Penguin ed.):

p.141: "for it is only as value that it can be related to the coat as being
equal in value to it, or exchangeable with it".
My interpretation of the last clause is that it is synonymous with 'being
equal in value to it'; presumably Alan has to argue that the last clause
generalises 'being equal in value to it', so that the latter becomes a
special case. Surely this is a forced reading?

p142: "By equating...the coat as a thing of value to the linen, we equate
the labour embedded in the coat with the labour embedded in the linen" .

p143: "...the coat, in so far as it counts as its equal, ie is value,
consists of the same labour as it does itself"

p144-5: "The equation 20 yards of linen = 1 coat.....implies...that the
quantities in which the two commodities are present have cost the same
amount of labour or the same quantity of labour-time."

p159: "The innumerable equations of which the general form of value is
composed equate the labour realised in the linen with the labour contained
in every other commodity in turn, and they thus convert weaving into the
general form of appearance of undifferentiated human labour"

pp167-8: Whole paragraph culminating in "the labour-time socially necessary
to produce them asserts itself as a regulative law of nature".

p186 "This value [of money SM] is determined by the labour-time required for
its production, and is expressed in the quantity of any other commodity in
which the same amount of labour-time is congealed."

p210 "The change of form [ie C-M-C SM] requires that a given value shall
form the starting point of the process, in the shape of a commodity, and
that it shall return to the same point in the shape of a commodity"

I think that that what Marx says here is not easily compatible with
1. Alan's value equation formulation - see also Allin in 984
2. the contention that the general assumption is that goods exchange at
arbitrary prices
3. the argument that the derivation of exchange-value and hence money from
value, via the discussion of relative and equivalent forms of value and the
peculiarities of the equivalent form, is a specialisation and a specific
deduction concerning the pure forms of exchange.
4. the argument that the 'pure forms' of exchange
relate only to the *sale* of goods and not to their

Two other points.
First, Alan writes, concerning the VLP:
> 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.
Yes, but the obvious interpretation is that this is because of the
assumption that prices are proportional to values!

And second, Alan writes
>Thus the value of labour
>power is still given by the price of the goods in the wage-
>bundle, not by their value.
> 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.
The problem for me is that this argument is defining values not in terms of
labour-time but in terms of prices paid. This is a well-trodden route from
the marginalist revolution onwards - once value and price become the same
thing there is no room for a labour theory of value. Or is this too provocative?

Simon Mohun,
Dept of Economics,
Queen Mary and Westfield College,
Mile End Road,
London E1 4NS,
Telephone: 0171-975-5089
Fax: 0181-983-3580