[OPE-L:1104] Re: individual prices in Volume 1

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Sun, 18 Feb 1996 11:10:27 -0800

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Duncan writes:

> Gil, commenting on Fred, says in part:
> >
> > [Again, my emphasis.]
> >
> > There is at least one step in the argument of Volume I for which the
> > characterizations isolated above are manifestly not true. This is
> > Marx's conclusion at the end of Ch. 5, where he argues that
> > capitalist exploitation *must* be explainable on the basis that all
> > commodities exchange at their values. In saying this he is clearly
> > denying that "the main conclusions of Volume I do not depend in any
> > way on whether or not the prices of individual commodities are equal
> > to their values", since he is asserting that any case of capitalist
> > exploitation is institutionally isomorphic to one in which
> > price-value equivalence holds.

To which Duncan responds:

> I don't think this follows logically. Any explanation ought to cover the
> special case where prices are proportional to embodied labor
> coefficients,...

But this is exactly the problem: The arguments advanced by Marx in
Chapter 5 *do not logically support* the conclusion that "any
explanation ought to cover the special case where prices are
proportional to embodied labor coefficients." As I mentioned
previously, these arguments do not rule out (among other
possibilities) the claim that surplus value *requires* price-value
non-equivalence *plus* "something...which takes place in the
background..."(Marx). Thus in asserting this Duncan is assuming
precisely the conclusions I demonstrate to be invalid.

[To put this in condensed form: the premise that condition A taken
alone does not imply condition C does not rule out the possibility
that condition A *plus* some other condition B taken together imply C.]

>...and a failure in this case would call the whole explanation into
> question logically.

This assumes that the relevance of the case of price-value equivalence to
the required explanation has been established, which I'm arguing it
hasn't. I also argue that the historical cases of capitalist
exploitation which preceded the capitalist mode of exploitation
typically *required* price-value disparities, affirming the
illegitimacy of Marx's conclusion at the end of Ch. 5. More on this

> But I don't think this requires the explanation
> itself to assume the proportionality, since it might also work in a
> larger number of cases.

But Marx does require that this explanation can also be made in the
case of proportionality, and this requirement (a) does not follow
from the arguments given in the chapter and (b) is contrary to Marx's
own repeatedly affirmed historical analysis.

> > Moreover, there is a two-fold problem with Marx's argument: first, it clearly
> > does not follow from the arguments given in the chapter. For
> > example, these arguments [to the effect that surplus value cannot
> > arise from simple commodity circulation *taken alone* with or without
> > price-value equivalence] are not inconsistent with the conclusion
> > that surplus value requires "something ...in the background which is
> > not visible in the circulation itself" and price-value *disparities*,
> > and in fact it did in the case of surplus value arising from
> > proto-industrial merchant's capital--as Marx repeatedly affirms in
> > his historical analysis.
> >
> > Second, the conclusion is pernicious in that it has apparently led
> > generations of Marxist economists to believe that the purchase and
> > subsumption of the commodity labor power within the capitalist mode
> > of production is a *necessary* condition for capitalist exploitation,
> > contrary to marx's explicit and repeated affirmed historical
> > analysis.
> >
To which Duncan responds:

> Here I would be more comfortable if the word "capitalist" were dropped.
> This goes to the confusion ( stemming in part from Roemer's work) over
> the concept of exploitation, and also the tendency to identify the
> capitalist form of surplus value (say, in interest-bearing capital) with
> capitalist exploitation (which Marx makes clear is connected to the
> wage-labor form.

No. I must be emphatic about this: there is absolutely no
confusion here, and it has nothing to do with Roemer's work, which
only provides analytical corroboration of Marx's historical account,
which *repeatedly* and *unambiguously* confirms that the term
"capitalist exploitation" as he understands it covers the historical cases
of usurer's capital and merchant's capital extended to small producers--
i.e., in just the manner I use the term in my earlier posts.

>From Volume III, p. 730 (Penguin ed.): "Usurer's capital has
capital's mode of exploitation without its mode of production."

>From the Grundrisse, p. 853 (Penguin): "What takes place [with
usury] is exploitation by capital without the mode of production of capital."

>From the Economic Manuscript of 1861-63 (Collected Works, Vol 34, pp.

"[Usury] is rather a form which...combines together capitalist
exploitation without a capitalist mode of production...What we have
said of usurers' capital is true of *merchant's capital*." [Marx's

In multiple other passages, Marx uses every other cognate imaginable
to establish that, within his conceptual framework, what goes on in
these historical cases is the same thing that goes on in the
capitalist mode of production, but without the purchase and subsumption
of wage labor. Here's an example from the Resultate (p. 1023 of
Penguin edition of Capital Vol I):

"In India, for example, the capital of the *usurer* advances raw
materials or tools or even both to the immediate producer in the form
of money. The exorbitant interest which it attracts...is just
another name for surplus-value. It transforms its money into capital
by extorting unpaid labour, surplus labour, from the immediate
producer. But it does not intervene in the process of production
itself...here we have *not yet* reached the stage of the formal
subsumption of labor under capital.

"A further example is *merchant's capital*, which commissions a number
of immediate producers, then collects their produce and sells it,
perhaps making them advances in the form of raw materials, etc., or
even moeny..Here too we find no formal subsumption of labour under
capital." [Marx's emphasis]

Duncan states that "Marx makes clear [that capitalist exploitation]is
connected to the wage-labor form."

Perhaps. However--and this is critical--Marx *nowhere* states that the
wage labor form is *required* for the existence of capitalist exploitation
as he defines the term. And above I've listed three explicit
counter-examples to any such interpretation.

To put it another way: Duncan's reading would require us to
incorporate the capitalist mode of production (i.e., at least formal
subsumption of labor under capital) in the definition of capitalist
exploitation. But **Marx** clearly does not do this, and furthermore
there is no good reason to conflate these terms: one can understand
capitalist exploitation simply and unambiguously as the appropriation
of surplus value via some circuit of capital.

A logically separate question is whether capitalist exploitation *requires*
the capitalist mode of production. Marx's response to this is
explicitly historically contingent, rather than categorical, as
Duncan suggests.


P.S. Interesting aside: My foregoing arguments with respect to
Marx's Ch. 5 errors and historically contingent analysis of
capitalist exploitation would seem to corroborate Duncan's remarks on
OPE-L early last November, to the effect that Marx may have erred by
emphasizing value analysis over historical materialist analysis in
his presentation of the material in Volume I.