[OPE-L:2089] Re: Chapter 5

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Mon, 6 May 1996 09:10:53 -0700

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While I welcome and broadly agree with Alan's criticism of Fred's
claim that Marx focuses solely on "capitalist production", other
aspects of his post are less encouraging.

E.g., fast forward to the following passage:

> We have everything to gain by clarifying our common ground,
> and in the discussion with anyone who, like Gil, holds Marx's approach to be
> inconsistent, this is what I think we should seek to do.

This is a gross over-simplification. I don't categorically hold
"Marx's approach to be inconsistent". I've argued at length that his
historical-materialist account of exploitation and profit is on the
whole quite consistent. It is true that I identify invalid arguments where they
occur, and Marx's conclusion at the end of Ch. 5, to the effect that
the transformation of money into capital must be explained on the
basis of price-value equivalence, is manifestly invalid. This is
true *whether or not* one believes aggregate values = aggregate
prices. As I've argued repeatedly, without response.

Now fast forward to where Alan says:

> [Fred] therefore perceives as a threat something which is no threat at all but
> on the contrary decisively strengthens the case for Marx's value theory,
> namely Gil's insistence that we should discuss exchange at values other
> than prices and in societies other than capitalist society.

My "insistence" on the first score stems from the invalidity of Marx's
methodological conclusion at the end of Ch. 5; on the latter score,
from Marx's own discussion of usury and proto-industrial capital as
vehicles for capitalist exploitation.

> I have no objection to this at all. I think on the contrary, Marx's value
> categories, being derived without the assumption of exchange at values,

I never said they were derived on this basis.

> are perfectly applicable to the general case, and that moreover Marx's
> Chapter 5 analysis, as I suggested in February [1112-14, 1138-39, 1170-71]

Part of my growing frustration with this exchange is that I responded
to *all* of the above posts *in detail* (at incredible time cost), without
any response from Alan. Thus I've already addressed most of the following
of his claims.

> can be shown to demonstrate that in *all* commodity-producing
> societies the only source of exchangeable value is human labour-power,

Of course it is. I've never denied this. It's *necessarily* true,
given Marx's definition of value: only human labor-power can yield
human labor.

> that there at no point in history any source of surplus value for society
> as a whole other than the sale of labour-power as a commodity,

Not only does this not follow from the foregoing, but it is
fundamentally at odds with explicit claims to the contrary made
repeatedly by Marx, beginning with the Grundrisse and continuing
through the Economic Manuscript of 1861-63, Volume III, and the
Resultate. Usury capital extended to small producers and proto-industrial
merchant's capital do not involve "the sale of labour-power as a commodity",
and yet do, as Marx repeatedly and unambiguously affirms in passages
I have quoted and Alan has never denied, appropriate surplus value.

Thus Alan's defense of Marx's "consistency" makes claims which
fundamentally contradict explict and repeatedly affirmed statements
made by Marx. And this while suggesting that *I* hold Marx's
approach to be inconsistent!

> and that
> the sum of surplus value and the sum of profits are under all
> circumstances the same, and equal to the difference between the value of
> the money paid for consumed variable and constant capital (including
> materially-depreciated fixed capital), and the value of the money received
> for sales.

This may be true, but Marx does not say this in Ch. 5. I've
criticized Alan's interpretation of the passage he believes establishes
this as not saying anything of the sort.

> Thus, I proposed in [#1171 entitled "The real fundamental Marxian
> theorem"] Marx is justified in considering the 'pure' form of sale at
> values in discussing the origin of surplus value, because the sum of
> profits is an invariant with respect to variations in relative price.
> Since the total of profits is independent of what goods sell for (proved
> in Chapter 5) the assumption of sale at values at this point, and for the
> first time in Volume I, involves no loss of generality.

But I've criticized this assessment, again without response from
Alan. The claim that "the total of profits is independent of what
goods sell for" is *not* proved in Chapter 5; indeed Marx never says
anything of the sort. What he does say is that surplus value cannot
be explained "by circulation alone", whether or not commodities
exchange at their respective values. But this too follows directly
from the definition of surplus value as "self-valorization" rather
than mere redistribution of value.

Thus surplus value requires something "which is not visible in
the circulation itself", that being the creation of new value in
production. However, Marx also says that surplus value must be
realized *through* circulation, and in the case of usury capital
extended to small producers and proto-industrial merchant's capital
the appropriation of surplus value *requires* price-value
disparities. Thus it is not in general true that "the total of
profits is independent of what goods sell for."

> In the words of the song, who could ask for anything more?

I guess I could ask that my arguments be a) accurately represented
and b)responded to rather than ignored, especially in posts that
claim to "refute" these arguments, as in the following:

> I am not asking Gil to accept this because I know he doesn't. I *am*
> suggesting Fred experiment with this argument because, if correct, it fully
> refutes Gil and does not capitulate to any of the three deadly interpretations.

It does not "refute Gil". I've explained at length why this is so, and have
received no response from Alan.

Fast forward once again to, last but not least,

> Hence, Gil's argument that antediluvian forms of capital give rise to
> autonomous sources of surplus value, are actually refuted (in my view)
> fully generally in Chapter 5. There is no need to impose any restriction
> in order to get this result, and on the contrary, the attempt to impose
> such a restriction seems to place Fred in a textually indefensible position.

Another fundamental misrepresentation of what I've said.

***The claim that "antediluvian forms of capital give rise to
autonomous sources of surplus value" is not *my* argument, it is
*Marx's*, an argument repeatedly and unambiguously affirmed across ten
years of writing on political economy.*** Thus if this claim is
"actually refuted...fully generally" in Chapter 5, it is *Alan* who
is insisting on the fundamental inconsistency of Marx's analysis, on
a much more far-reaching basis than my simple point that Marx's
methodological conclusion at the end of Ch. 5 does not follow
logically from his premises.

Just to refresh memories, one passage among very many, this one from
the Resultate (I, 1023, Penguin)

"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, the interest
which, irrespective of its magnitude, it extorts from the primary
producer, **is just another name for surplus value.** **It
transforms its money into capital by extorting unpaid labour, surplus
labour, from the immediate producer."

In sum, not only has Alan not "refuted" my Ch. 5 critique, it is my
belief that he hasn't even confronted it yet. This belief is
strengthened by comments such as the following, offered in an earlier
OPE-L exchange with Paul C.:

"This use of empirical data seems to me almost as selective as Gil's
use of value theory."

Needless to say, it has never been my intent to "use" value theory,
selectively or otherwise. Rather my purpose has been to understand
and assess what Marx actually says, whether or not in value-theoretic
terms. If what he says at some points are demonstrably invalid, well, so be it.
But surely this charge of "selectivity" must seem strange when a defense of
Marx's *consistency* fundamentally Marx's own repeatedly avowed position.

In frustration, Gil