[OPE-L:2108] Re: Chapter 5

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Tue, 7 May 1996 14:09:59 -0700

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A few more comments on Alan's post insofar as it pertains to my
exchange with Fred, and more generally with "Mike and Gil's
surprising agreement." Alan writes:

> My basic thrust is to suggest a refinement (previously the subject of
> quite wide agreement, see #925 and #884) of the following statement that
> he (Fred) makes:
> "Marx's provisional assumption in Volume I that the prices of individual
> commodities are equal to their values plays no essential role in Marx's
> theory of the aggregate amount of surplus-value"
> The refinement is this:
> "Marx's assumption from Chapter 6 onwards that the prices of individual
> commodities are equal to their values plays no essential role in his
> derivation of value."

But this can have no implications for the exchange between Fred and
me, for the simple reason that I've never believed that the
derivation of values has any connection whatsoever to the assumption
that prices equal values. Consequently nothing in my argument
depends on any such connection.

> This restates a position widely agreed in an earlier debate [see #925]

I'm not sure what "widely agreed" means in this context, but I
responded at length to Alan's post 925 in my post 935, disputing in
particular his claim that the simultaneist notion of value relies in
any way whatsoever on the connection between prices and values.

> Fred's statement follows from it and the more general statement is
> a firmer ground on which to stand.

Possibly, but not with reference to our debate. See above.

> The derivation of the category of value depends on the fact that by
> exchanging in consistent proportions, commodities prove that they are
> commensurable,

This brings us back to a debate of many months ago, newly illuminated
by Alan's recent suggested interpretation of the German term
"gleich". That is: **it does not follow** that "by exchanging in
consistent proportions, commodities prove that they are
commensurable" in the sense that Marx requires. I.e., exchange of
itself does not "express something equal". Counter example: suppose
an acre of unimproved land exchanges "in consistent proportions" with
the copyright on use of rock star Madonna's name. This does not
establish that the two items are "commensurable" in the sense that
there is something of equal magnitude which is common to them.
Yes, I know they are not commodities; this is irrelevant unless one can
establish an *additional* premise (which Marx does not do) to the
effect that *only* commodities have this remarkable power of deriving
"commensurability" from the mere fact of "exchanging in consistent

This is further driven home by Alan's suggested emendation in our
reading of "gleich". He suggests this should be read more as
"similar to" rather than "equal to". Very well, commensurability
does not follow from similarity.

> This argument does not rely on exchange at values. Rather than clog up
> this 'exchange' on the question, can I refer any disputants first to the
> long debate of January and February. If we don't learn from debates we
> are doomed to repeat them.

Yes, clearly.

> The suggestion I want to put to Fred is this: the assertion that in
> Chapters 1-5 Marx deals only with the capitalist mode of production leads
> to statements that are not necessary and not very defensible, and actually
> cedes decisive ground to the 'logical-historical interpretation'.

I suppose by this Alan is suggesting that my Ch. 5 critique is an
example of such "logical-historical interpretation" (otherwise it's
not clear what the comment is aimed at). I'll respond to the following
on the basis of this supposition.

> I think it is better to take a firm stand on a different ground, namely
> that Chapters 1-5 make no statement about production at all other than to
> state that commodities are exchangeable products of labour.

> All conclusions of chapter 5 are *independent* of the mode of production
> under consideration, because they make no reference to labour-power as a
> commodity until the very end: that is, the function of chapter 5 is to
> demonstrate that surplus value can arise only on the basis of a commodity
> that makes its appearance for the first time *after* chapter 5, a
> commodity which both is, and is not, in the sphere of circulation, namely
> the commodity labour-power.

This conclusion follows only if one accepts the *second* part of
Marx's "double result", to the effect that surplus value must be
explained on the basis of price-value equivalence. Otherwise, it is
not generally valid, *in Marx's own terms*: surplus value also arose
historically from proto-industrial merchant's capital and usury
capital extended to small producers, neither of which involve the
purchase of the commodity labor power. Proto-industrial capital, for
example, purchased specific labor services, not merely the capacity
to labor.

> 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.

[It's not "Gil's argument", it's Marx's! see previous post]

I'd say not, in light of the above, and a long string of
contradictory passages from Marx himself, beginning with the
Grundrisse and going through Volume III. Furthermore, Marx's
conclusion in Ch. 5 re these "antediluvian circuits" is not quite so
categorical as Alan's comments suggest. For example: "If the
valorization of merchants' capital is not to be explained merely by
frauds practised on the producers of commodities, a long series of
intermediate steps would be necessary, which are as yet entirely
absent, since here our assumption is the circulation of commodities
and its simple elements." [I, 267, Penguin] Proto-industrial
merchant's capital is one such counter-example, as Marx's own
analysis confirms. A parallel story holds for usury capital extended
to small producers.

> I think there is good reason: surely Marx, the logician, knew that the most
> important error to avoid in any systematic development of his subject, was
> assuming what had to be proved? He therefore confined himself to the most
> general features of the commodity, assuming no more than that it was an
> exchangeable product of labour. The process of logical development then
> adds further determinations to what has been shown in these first six
> chapters, to the point where by Volume III we are dealing with the full
> capitalist mode of production complete with free capital movement,
> equalisation of the profit rate, technical progress and so on. But at no
> point, and this is the key, does any part of capital *assume* what is
> later proven.

How about at the end of Vol. I, Ch. 4, where Marx states that M-C-M'
"is in fact therefore the general formula for capital", and that M-M'
is simply an "abridged form" of this formula? On the basis of what
has been argued to that point, couldn't one as readily conclude that
M-M' is the general formula, and M-C-M' is simply an "expanded form"
of it? Just curious.
> This remarkable logical feat seems to me greatly underrated in the
> literature. For me it is the decisive reason that Marx's theory of money
> is superior to its neoclassical rivals, all of which assume capitalist
> production in order to derive money. This makes nonsense of the fact that
> money exists both before and after capitalism.

Then by the same token isn't it nonsense to suggest as of Ch. 4 that
M-C-M' is the general formula of capital, given that M-M' existed
before it, as Marx acknowledges?

[Fast forward]

> The fundamental error of the 'logical-historical' view is to mistake
> simplification for abstraction. It holds that in Capital 1 part 1 we find
> a complete 'working model' of capitalism. I think this is the real
> foundation of nearly all modern reconstructions of Marx. It is a
> very widespread view which I don't think is entirely absent even from
> Fred's thinking. But there is *no* model of production at this point.

For what it's worth, my critique of Marx's Ch. 5 argument does not
depend in any way on such stipulations. I argue that Marx's
conclusion is invalid judged on its own terms.

> That is precisely why, for example, one cannot at this point deduce the
> magnitude of value from a simultaneous equation. There just isn't enough
> information present to do that, without incorporating assumptions that are
> yet to be proved.

Nor is there enough information to deduce the magnitude of value from
a sequential equation, for just the reason given below.

> We do not yet know, for example, whether the means of production are
> commodities or not. We don't even know until Chapter 6, how the labourers
> receive their means of consumption. [VI:135n: 'At this stage of our
> presentation, the category of wages does not exist at all']. It is not
> until the citation I just gave that this most basic determination is
> added.
> What we find until this point is common to capitalist and precapitalist
> (and postcapitalist) commodity production. This is therefore necessarily
> independent of any *particular* mode of production. It refers neither to
> an imaginary precapitalist age as Meek assumes, nor to a hypothetical and
> idealised 'simple circulation' stage as Sweezy supposes, nor to the
> specifically Capitalist Mode of Production. It does not refer to a
> determinate mode of production at all. It sums up, in its most abstract
> form, those features of the commodity that are common to all modes of
> production in which the commodity appears.
> This view cuts equally against the 'historical-logical' approach which
> insists, contrary to what I just suggested, that the early parts of
> Capital do in fact refer to a specific society, the specific society that
> historically precedes capitalism.

Again, I'll note for what it's worth that this has no bearing on my
critique of Marx's Ch. 5 argument.

> It is true that 'the object of Capital is the Capitalist Mode of
> Production'. But this does not at all preclude a discussion at an
> abstract level of features of the Capitalist Mode of Production which also
> exist in other modes of production. It is one thing to say 'the object of
> Capital is the Capitalist Mode of Production' and entirely another to say
> 'the object of Capital is *nothing but* the Capitalist Mode of
> Production'.
> In a work on oaks, one also discusses acorns, as Hegel would not hesitate
> to remind us. In order to know a thing, one must also know its process
> of becoming and of ceasing to be. That means one must know what, in
> its process of becoming, is preserved from earlier modes of production
> and transcended in the new. Now, the commodity exists in capitalism
> but it also exists before capitalism and after capitalism. The point
> is not that the commodity does not exist except under capitalism,
> but that under capitalism it becomes a different thing. [VI:950: 'We
> see here how even economic categories appropriate to earlier modes of
> production acquire a new and specific historical character under
> the impact of capitalist production']
> I hazard a guess that Fred's real concern is the following: that if we
> acknowledge Marx discusses precapitalist features of the commodity in
> Volume 1, the door opens to the 'logical-historical' interpretation. I
> don't think this is so.
> >From where *does* the 'logical-historical' interpretation receive its real
> vitality? In my opinion it receives it from the simultaneous equation
> definition of value.

Again, this has no bearing whatsoever on my Ch. 5 critique, which
nowhere invokes any equation representing value, simultaneous,
sequentialist, or whatever.

Oops, my mail program cut off the rest of the message. I guess I'm
stopping here. In solidarity, Gil