[OPE-L:1081] Re: Definitions and Tautologies

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Fri, 16 Feb 1996 08:46:29 -0800

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Andrew here, replying to Allin's posts (ope-l 1061, 1062):

Allin says he and others do not reject my interpretation of Marx because
they refuse the "Principle of Charity"--i.e., that the best interpretation
is that which, cereris paribus, has it make sense. Rather, Allin says,
first, my interpretation is at odds with the "most natural reading" of
Marx's texts. But this begs the question. Natural for whom? Readers
who have been indoctrinated with the view that Marx's value theory is
essentially Ricardian, that values are technologically determined by
definition, that values and prices exist in distinct systems, that Marx
was admitting "error" when he wrote that "if the cost price of the
commodity is identified with the value of the means of production consumed
in it, it is always possible to go wrong" (Vol. III, p. 265 Vintage)?
To *me*, it is "natural" to read this passage as saying that the value
of the used-up constant and variable capital is not identical to the value
of the means of production and subsistence , precisely because the
deviations of prices from values--"this error in the past" (ibid.)--
then affect the value of new capital outlays. And there are several
other passages in Vol. III that say the same thing. Plus, e.g., the
passage on p. 317 of Vol. I, where Marx explicitly says a change in the
"price" of cotton changes the amount of value transferred to the product
(yarn). Plus the greater part of Ch. 6 of Vol. III is just about this
point--although Marx is still assuming values = prices there, he says
the analysis (effect of price changes on the rate of profit) is valid
no matter what the reason for the price change.

I suggest that the "most natural" reading seems natural due to what Marx
called "empty tradition." This reading has simply ignored a lot of the
text. It has distorted passages in which Marx clearly indicates the
impact of price changes on c and v as if they were admissions of error.

But even were all this not the case, defending a reading because it is
most "natural" (anyone who knows any historical materialism should
question this category) is certainly to deny the "Principle of Charity"
if the most "natural" reading is the one that can't make sense out of
the text as a whole, while a contrary, "unnatural" interpretation can do
so and has done so. As I suggested to Gil, if one works backwards from
Marx's theoretical conclusions to the meaning of his categories, i.e.,
makes the conclusions part of the "natural" meaning of the text, then
one is lead towards the TSS interpretation.

Allin also says Marx didn't know linear algebra. Again, this begs the
question--according to WHOM does the transformation of values into
prices need to be "solved" by the methods of linear algebra? As McGlone
and I noted in our 1988 C&C article, to claim that Marx knew his
transformation account was erroneous is in effect to charge him with
blatant dishonesty, because the rest of Vol. III relies on the conclusions
he arrived at in Ch. 9 (Paul Cockshott, if you're reading this, note that
*your* interpretation of VP&P implies that Marx was dishonest with the
workers, since he elsewhere did affirm a difference between natural price
and value).

As understood according to the TSS interpretation, the transformation does
NOT require linear algebra (or iteration to stationary prices). Moreover,
as understood according to the TSS interpretation, Marx's transformation
is logically coherent, and the invariance of the profit rate, total
value, and total surplus-value are obtained. So again, there's an
*unavoidable* choice. Either Marx was in error, linear algebra is
needed, most everything Marx had to say about valuation is wrong (though
a few things can be salvaged from the wreckage by Morishima, etc.), his
law of the falling rate of profit and therefore his theory of crisis and
the law of motion of capitalist society is wrong--but one can hold fast
to one's "natural" reading. OR one re-reads the text with new eyes,
begins to try to internalize a new way of understanding the text, its
structure, the meaning of its categories, so that the "internal incon-
sistencies" disappear.

The above is my response to Allin's ope-l 1062. But it applies also to
his ope-l 1061, in which Allin writes that he doesn't reject the TSS
interpretation because he dislikes the implications, but because it
"seems incoherent and because I see no warrant for it in Capital."
In addition to the above, I'd just simply say: look at all the textual
evidence of temporal determination and price-value interdependence that
people have found, and try explaining them in terms of your "natural"
and seemingly coherent reading. Is that going to be chalked up once
again to Marx's inconsistencies? This is all pure subjectivism--the
best interpretation is the one that most appeals to me and makes sense
to me from my perspective. Why are you employing such a different
criterion to evaluate the correspondence of interpretations and text from
the one you'd employ to evaluate the correspondence of a theory to
any other sort of evidence?

Only two other things: (1) Allin refer's to "Andrew's theory." Again,
I do not have a theory; I have an interpretation of Marx's theory. It
must be judged according to how well it makes sense of the latter, and
NOTHING else (e.g., goodness of fit to market prices, how much one
likes it, etc.), because that is its sole purpose.

(2) Allin says that the value of constant capital, dead labor, is the
amount of labor-time required to produce the means of production. But
Marx says the opposite. On pp. 264-65 of Vol. III, he says that that
had been his original *assumption*, but that the transformation of values
into production prices implies a "modification" of the meaning of cost
price. Again, there are many other passages like this.

I think some of Allin's difficulty accepting the TSS interpretation, like
Gil's, stems from an axiomatic method of reading the text--fixing on
a particular, undeveloped, "early" expression of a category and mistaking
it for a "definition" that subsequent dialectical development of the
category is not allowed to modify.

This is NOT a critique of axiomatics, please note, only a critique of
the method of *interpreting Marx* this way.

Andrew Kliman