[OPE-L:1237] Re:

Paul_Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Tue, 27 Feb 1996 03:29:21 -0800

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- The first part "Marx did not make this assumption". What do you
mean? Never? Marx often does this assumption. Sometimes, it is just
a simplifying assumption. Sometimes, it is rather closely linked to
the core of its demonstration. Consider, for example, the following
lines in Volume I, in the chapter "Contradictions in the General
Formula" (I cite from the Marx Library, p. 261): "It is true that
commodities may be sold at prices which diverge from their values, but
this divergence appears as an infringement of the laws governing the
exchange of commodities. In its pure form, the exchange of
commodities is an exchange of equivalents, and thus it is not a method
of increasing value." There, the exchange of commodities at their
values is important in Marx's argument since he wants to derive
exploitation UNDER THE ASSUMPTION of prices proportionnal to values:
exploitation does not follow from a violation of the law of exchange
(introduced in chapter 2: commodities exchange at their values). Note
parenthetically that, in a capitalist economy, the law of exchange
("in its pure form") is the exchange of (capitalist) commodities at
their prices of production. Exploitation must again be analyzed
even assuming that this new law is not violated (this is another basic
point about our interpretation of the transformation).

Paul Cockshott
I agree with your presentation of Marx's argument

But it is worth examining what it means for the
exchange of commodities at prices of production
to be the 'pure form' of commodity exchange under

The argument is that this is brought about by
the formation of an equal rate of profit between
different branches of production. One could object
that such an equal rate is never in fact attained.
Now in one sense this is irrelevant. In discussing
a 'pure form' one is abstracting from such deviations
from the ideal. But in another sense it is relevant
if one can identify something systematic in the
economy that produces a different result.

Assuming an equal rate of profit between capitals
involves the simplifying assumption that the only
contraditions involved are those between capitals.
It abstracts from the contradiction between firms
and the workers that they employ.

A high rate of profit in a firm will not only
tend to attract other firms to that line of business,
it will also, if the workers are organised, lead
to attempts to win wage increases. Unless one assumes
that the employees are a disorganised mass, forced
to take whatever wage they are offered, then high
profits are likely to lead to strikes or threats
of strikes for wage increases. If the firms are
profitable, then it may be cheaper to conceed the
wage increase than to bear the cost of a strike.

Thus although contradictions between capitals may
tend to equalise the rate of profit, contradiction
between labour and capital tends to prevent the
monetary measure of the rate of surplus value -
profit/wages from diverging excessively from the
national norm.

Thus exchange at prices of production is the pure
form for a capitalism without class struggle.

Exchange at values is the pure form for a capitalism
without struggle between capitals, in which one
only considers the contradiction between the workers
and their employees ( as is done in vol 1).

The actual reality corresponds to neither of these
pure forms, since both types of struggle exist.
There are thus two competing laws governing the
exchange of commodities - the law of value and the
law of prices of production. To the extent that
the working class is defenceless the law of prices
of production will dominate, to the extent that
the working class is strong, the law of value will