[OPE-L:1173] Agreeing to Disagree

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Wed, 21 Feb 1996 02:05:03 -0800

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A followup to my comment on Allin's 'thought this was settled'
remark in [OPE 1121 19/02/96], in relation to Dominique's
(Salut!) [OPE 1155:20/02] posting.

In general I was very happy with Dominique's statement that

"the basic relationships Marx wanted to established are not subject to the
assumption that commodities are exchanged at their value or at PRICES

But what is the relation of this statement to:

"- Marx generally assumes that commodity exchange at their values.
This is the case in Volume I and Volume II (for example in the
analysis of reproduction schemes), but also in volume III (for example
in some of his developments related to the falling profit rate,
although not in all). I agree with Duncan: this is a simplifying
assumption." ?

This second view, although this may just be a slip, is stated as
a fact, rather than an opinion of Dominique's.

I assume from this that 'relationships' in the first citation cannot
therefore include Marx's derivation of value itself; for, if exchange at
values is assumed throughout Volume I, then Marx's value categories
must at the very least depend on this assumption, if indeed they
are not explicitly derived from it. Thus, what Dominique writes
is in direct contradiction with what Andrew, myself and to some
extent others have been saying for the last month and indeed, what
most of last month's debate has been about, on which Allin, myself
and Gil reached 'agreement 1'.

Indeed Dominique's slant would appear to be exactly what I
expressed in [OPE 1114: 19/02] as follows, to which Allin took
exception as a matter which had been 'laid to rest'. I said:

"The view widely accepted as 'Marxist' is this: even though
Marx virulently and polemically insists that wine worth $40
is almost never sold for $40 throughout the Philosophy of
Poverty, the whole of the Grundrisse, in Towards a Critique
of Political Economy, in many places in the Theories of
Surplus Value and in several places during Chapter 1-4 of
Volume I; even though Chapter 5 quite explicitly derives its
results from the assumption of unequal exchange which clearly
governs the preceding four chapters (or else why bother
*proving* the assumption can now be dropped?), even though
Volume III demonstrates that goods whose value is $40 cannot
*possibly* sell for $40; nevertheless, Marx defines value as
if they do."

Without any malice towards Dominique, I think his second remark
is a fairly clear empirical justification of my judgement on
what most marxists think. Dominique, in common with the great
majority of people working in the marxist tradition, takes it for a
known fact that in Volume I Marx assumes that commodities
exchange at their values *even though* Dominique is (commendably)
exploring alternative approaches to transformation. This is because
the alternative reading - that Marx did not make this assumption and
that his derivation of value does not depend on it - has simply not
been given any serious consideration outside of a small, though
growing, body of people.

I don't think this is any particular fault in Dominique; I think
he is only repeating what almost all Marxists simply take for

Until this general attitude in the 'Marxist' community subsides
and it is recognised that it is *not* a 'known fact' but a particular
reading of Marx - and a reading which leads to gross contradictions
not only with Marx's transformation procedure but with much of
what Marx writes even in Volume I, never mind earlier in his
life - then unfortunately the matter will not be 'settled'.

Also until this general 'received view' gives way to a recognition
that there are perfectly consistent, logical and valid alternatives
which square with the texts at *least* as well as any other
interpretation (this is only a personal view, but I would say *better*
than any other interpretation); that is until we can have a genuine
*scholarly* debate in which no interpretation is excluded a priori
or by assumption, then also, the matter will not be 'settled'.

And also, until this happens, the growing body of people who have
sketched out these alternative readings, which have been around
for fifteen years now, will just keep raising it. Again, and again,
and again, and again, and however long it takes until such
throwaway remarks are no longer made.

In the meantime it would be helpful if remarks such as 'Marx
says' are prefaced by the words 'I think' where what 'Marx
says' is a matter that is known to be in dispute.

I don't ask that questions like these are settled, just
that then when they have *not* been settled, there is no
pretence, or unintentional implication, that they *have*
been settled, by stating matters of opinion as matters of

In short, we disagree on this, which means we should agree
to disagree: and one consequence of agreeing to disagree is
that we admit the disagreement in subsequent debate.

I look forward to Allin's reproof of Dominique for re-raising
a settled matter!!!

If he reproves everyone who makes such assumptions in the
next month, I predict he will have a busy time. It may even
save me the trouble of saying it myself.