[OPE-L:1054] (Fwd) Where things stand: one view

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Wed, 14 Feb 1996 10:06:06 -0800

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OPE-Listmates: My apologies if this has already been sent to you.
My system indicates that it hasn't, and it was sent out 2 days ago.
------- Forwarded Message Follows -------

I sense that the list is preparing to move away from the issues that
have been our focus for the past couple of weeks, and so be it. But
I do not think we should change gears before assessing what has been
established, or at least what problems remain at issue, in the
discussion of Marx's account in Chapter 5. I emphasize that what
follows is not a final judgment on the issues at hand, but rather my
necessarily one-sided view of what has been established thus far.

1) I have argued that Marx's conclusion in Volume I, Ch. 5, as
represented in its closing paragraph, supplemented by his final
footnote, does not follow from the arguments given in the chapter.
That is, the claim that surplus value cannot arise from simple
circulation taken alone whether or not commodities exchange at their
respective values, cannot possibly support the conclusion that
capitalist exploitation must be explained on the basis of
price-value equivalence. For example, the arguments given in the
chapter are not logically inconsistent with the alternative hypothesis
that capitalist exploitation requires "something...in the background which is
not visible in the circulation itself" plus price-value *non*equivalence.
Indeed, this was surely the case for capitalist exploitation which preceded the
capitalist mode of production, as indicated by Marx's discussion of
proto-industrial merchant's capital.

I believe this basic logical argument still stands.

The conclusion is not only invalid, it is pernicious, in that it has
been taken to imply that capitalist exploitation requires the
purchase and subsumption of labor power within the capitalist mode of
production, a conclusion that is starkly at odds with Marx's
oft-repeated historical analysis and Roemer's analytically relevant
counter-examples. More on this below.

2) Alan has suggested that my argument is defective because it fails
to acknowledge Marx's focus in Chapter 5 on *simple circulation*,
i.e. the circuit C-M-C. But this is not the case: rather, my
statement of Marx's argument is more general, and thus covers this
specification as a special case. To see this, define condition A as
"simple circulation" and partition it into A/E, C-M-C based on
price-value equivalence, and A/-E, simple circulation based on
non-equivalence of prices and values. Then substitute these terms
for (A) and (not-A) in my original post as amended, and the argument
goes through exactly as before.

Intuition: the issue is not whether new value can be created in
exchange. Of course it can't, since exchange isn't production and
value is defined in terms of socially necessary labor time expended
in production. Rather, the issue is whether this tautology is
sufficient to establish that capitalist exploitation is isomorphic to
a case in which price-value equivalence holds. It is not sufficient.

3) A secondary issue: must it be explicitly understood that Marx's
premises involve the process of circulation *taken alone*, i.e.
without that hidden "something...in the background"? Yes,
absolutely. It is easy to show that if this "something" is not ruled
out, then surplus value can arise from a given circuit of exchange.
This is easiest to show if one allows the possibility of surplus value
based on mere redistribution, because Marx's analysis of the case
commits a blatant fallacy of division. It may be true that "the
capitalist class of a given country, taken as a whole, cannot defraud
itself", but that is utterly beside the point. The question is
whether the capitalist class can "defraud" a *separate* class through
systematic price-value disparities, and of course it can.

Even if surplus-value based on redistribution is ruled out by
definition, surplus value via exchange can arise as long as this
"something" is allowed to lurk in the background. That is, Marx's
conclusion that surplus value in the event of disproportional prices
and values presumes the existence of "a class of buyers who do not sell,
i.e. a class of consumers who do not produce" is an utter _non sequitur_
*unless* one rules out the possibility that a trader purchases an "input
commodity" and uses it to produce new value before completing the circuit
of exchange. So the argument must be understood as exchange *taken alone*,
as indicated by Marx's (otherwise inadequate) example of tribute paid by
the towns of Asia Minor to ancient Rome.

4) Does any of the above change if one grants that total (money
expression of) value = total prices, as Alan and Andrew suggest? I
don't think so. For one, the conclusion of Ch. 5 still does not
follow from the premises, and for two, I suspect that this aggregate
identity is true by virtue of the definition of the value of money,
and I don't see how a simple tautology can have such substantive

5) Where does this leave us? If we throw out Marx's invalid
conclusion at the end of Ch. 5, we must allow the possibility of
capitalist exploitation without the purchase and subsumption of labor
power, i.e. without the capitalist mode of production. But this is
precisely the possibility that Marx emphatically and repeatedly
affirms in his historical acccount of capitalist exploitation, as
developed for example in Volume III, the Grundrisse, the Resultate,
and the Economic Manuscript of 1861-1863, and which is at least
consistent with Marx's analysis in Parts 4-6 of Capital Volume I.

In this context, the onset and prevalence of the capitalist mode of
production is best understood on historically contingent strategic
grounds which are essentially independent of Marx's value theory.
This conclusion does not deny that usury and proto-industrial
merchant's capital were limited and essentially transitional vehicles
for capitalist exploitation. However, I believe it does entail a
complete rethinking of the relevant grounds for further theoretical
developments in Marxian political economy. And that's my excuse for
monopolizing the attention of fellow OPE-Listmembers with these

In solidarity, Gil