[OPE-L:1254] Gerard's questions

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Wed, 28 Feb 1996 13:32:50 -0800

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Hello Gerard

Thank you for directing a specific reply to me.

There is a slight problem for me with becoming too involved in
this debate, which is that it was the subject of an enormous volume
of posts during the first six weeks of this year, many from myself,
and I don't want to overburden others with a repetition of what I
already said.

I don't know if you have kept this debate or if you were following
it anyhow, but what I will try to do is to reply assuming that you
have a record of the discussion somewhere but perhaps have not
had time to scrutinise it in detail.

If this is a false assumption in the direction that you don't have this
record, I can mail to you the relevant posts, I think.

If this is a false assumption in the direction that you have read
the entire debate and have it on instant recall, then I apologise
for the insult.

My overall conclusion is that we are in definite agreement on
the statement at the end of your post, of which I am glad:

"The second part "that his derivation of value does not
depend on it". If this is what you and the "small, though growing,
body of people" believe, you can count me as one.

"I do not see how Marx could begin with the idea that commodity
exchange at their value, to then derive his concept of value. And this is
the reason why chapter 1 of Capital (on the commodity) comes before
chapter 2 (on exchange)."

My contention in the earlier debate, which is the background to
the first part of your post, would be summarised as follows:

(1) (minimum statement) regardless of what Marx said, the assumption
of exchange at values is not necessary to his derivation of
any of the categories of Volume I, including value, surplus value,
money, relative surplus value and simple reproduction. In particular
in the first five chapters of Volume I the argument can be read
entirely as a statement about commensurability. According to
this way of looking at it, the value of a commodity is a magnitude
associated with every commodity that is a linear function of its
use value, is independent of all specific characteristics of the
commodity except that it is reproducible by human labour, and
is in some sense still to be defined, proportional to the quantity
of abstract labour required to produce the commodity. The fact
that commodities possess a value is deduced from the fact that
they are in an exchange relation with each other, not from the ratio
in which this exchange actually takes place.

(2) Marx himself certainly did adopt the assumption of sale at
values in order to derive surplus value, relative surplus value, and
simple reproduction. And he explicitly used this assumption
throughout Volume II.

(3) There is considerable dispute about whether Marx adopted the
assumption as a general rule in Volume I.

(4) (maximum statement) I argued fairly strongly that he did not;
that one finds in Volume I no statements of the type one finds in
Volume II, where it is clearly stated at the outset that commodities
are assumed to exchange at their value throughout the work. I
pointed out that in many places in Volume I, exchange at prices other
than values is discussed at length (particularly the much-discussed
Chapter V). In my view a more logical and consistent general
interpretation of his approach is to view all the statements where
he treats of exchange at values as 'exceptions' to the general rule
of Volume I, namely, exchange at arbitrary market prices. These are
quite large exceptions; for example his analysis of surplus value.
But the decisive issue is: did he assume exchange at values in order
to derive the category of value and the category of money? I would
argue that he did not, and that to do so would be completely in
contradiction with the whole spirit of his work until that time.

(5) There is a further dispute (!) about whether he was *justified*
in assuming exchange at values (his 'pure' case) in order to
derive surplus value and exploitation. I - in line with what is
coming to be called the 'TSS' interpretation - formulated what
I term the 'real Fundamental Marxian Theorem' according to
which profit is the linear sum of three terms: pure surplus value
as defined by Marx, nominal monetary inflation, and individual
deviations of prices from values on a per-commodity basis. The
third term summing to zero over the whole of commodities in
circulation, Marx is justified in analysing the total mass of
profit on the assumption that goods are *sold* for their values.

(6) one further complication is that as far as I can see (more
than maximum statement), Marx did not make the assumption
that goods were *purchased* at their values at any point in
Volume I. That is, I think he considered that values in Volume I
were *already* transformed by being expressed in money. This is
a subtle point but my argument would be that one does not in
fact need to make any assumptions about the money for which
goods are sold, in order to derive the category or magnitude of
surplus value, *provided* (as the TSS interpretation argues) one
accepts that constant capital is represented in the value of the
product by the value of the money which purchases it, not by
the value of the goods which this money purchases. Thus I think
in Volume I the purchases of the capitalist are considered only
in their most abstract form, as a sum of money representing
a proportionate claim on the total labour of the previous phase
of capitalist production.

My response would be to the p261 citation that you give
would be: if one follows through this whole chapter we
find it in fact systematically examines exchange at prices other
than values in order to 'prove' the fact that we may ignore this
for the purpose of studying the formation of surplus value.

If exchange at values was assumed from the outset, such a
proof would be superfluous. The 'pure' form of exchange is
exchange at values but, says Marx, this is not what actually
happens. Therefore, (he says) we must study whether exchange at
prices other than values can in and of itself create extra

In other words, the 'pure' form is not what actually happens
but a justifiable abstraction from what actually happens;
moreover (there was considerable argument over this) the
justification is not assumed a priori but actually given in
Chapter 5 of Volume I