[OPE-L:2200] Re: Chapter 5 and before

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Tue, 14 May 1996 05:19:05 -0700

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Bruce's intervention into the discussion is refreshing and his
approach to reading Marx one I wholeheartedly agree with.

First, this is a case where the translation has some impact, as a
quick glance at the Penguin version of the same text he quotes, or
the German, will verify [the word 'embodies' is specific to the
Moore/Aveling translation] But this isn't my main point so I'll come
back to it circuitously.

Bruce's final sentence is the one I think most important.

"There seems to be broad agreement that this is not a necessary
assumption for Marx to make; certainly Alan believes that and I agree
with him. But, in light of the above quotation and others like it, I
don't see how one can argue that the assumption appears only "from
chapter 6 onwards."

Exactly the correct starting point, it seems to me, is to ask whether
the assumption is necessary or not. This is a conceptual question,
not a textual one. It is a question addressed to a theory, not just a
text. It first asks not what words Marx used but what concepts he

There is a surprisingly broad agreement that this assumption is not
necessary. The question is then 'where do we go from here'?

If we have a genuine interest in 'extending Marx' then our next move
should be (since the assumption of price-value equivalence has been,
to say the least, something of a stumbling-block in the extension of
Marx) to see what follows if we drop this assumption. We ought to
study whether the rest of the structure comes tumbling down or
whether it becomes stronger and more general.

I think that I and others (including Bruce) have shown that far from
tumbling down, the structure becomes stronger, makes more sense,
becomes more general, in short becomes a better theory.

Very little of what Marx writes (in my view almost nothing) has to be
sacrificed; all the controversial parts fall into place; all the
apparently contradictory assertions become noncontradictory. Most
important of all it turns out that the Chapter 5 argument, exactly as
Riccardo has recognised, guarantees the equality of prices and
values, and guarantees the equality of profits and surplus values.

Dropping this 'assumption' (if it is indeed Marx's) strengthens,
generalises and improves what has been presented as Marx's thinking,
building on conceptual foundations which are clearly discernible and
derivable from his work. It builds a better theory than what has
hitherto represented as Marx's.

At the very least, therefore, instead of endlessly dwelling on Marx's
alleged mistakes, I think we should explore the very logical and
coherent interpretations that *can* be constructed by eliminating
this supposition.

That's what I consider to be 'extending Marx'.

In the contemporary academic climate, unfortunately, opening a
serious discussion about the meaning of difficult texts in Marx is a
bit like opening a lorryload of chainsaws in a summer camp for
juvenile offenders. As long as the prime focus in academia is to find
mistakes in Marx, it will be difficult to have a very public open-
ended discussion on this sort of question. What I would like to do is
to discuss *sympathetically* what Marx's actual construction was. I
am pessimistic about whether this is a possible collective enterprise
among all but a small group of people.

If one were to carry out such a sympathetic reading then the next
step is to revisit the text carefully to see whether this
interpretation really represents Marx's view, or not, and if not,
where the differences arise and why. This is not because Marx is a
source of authority but because we ourselves should be cautious not
to represent as Marx's views, something which he does not agree with
and also because in developing beyond what any thinker has written,
it is necessary clearly to indentify the common points of departure.

My argument in the early discussion was that if Marx had wanted to
make price-value equality the foundation of his value derivation, why
did he so signally fail to say so clearly and categorically at the
outset? At the start of Volume II there is a totally clear statement
that this assumption will apply throughout. The *absence* of this
statement from Volume I leads me to conclude that the *only* points
at which this assumption applies are those where Marx clearly says so.
>From Chapter 6 onwards this is the case, above all in discussion the
magnitude of surplus value and its determinants; but the reasoning
that supports the adoption of this assumption, in chapter 5, is clearly
based on non-equivalence and is indeed dedicated to proving that
non-equivalence cannot affect the magnitude of surplus value. It
is clear from this that Marx considers his chapter 5 argument to be
based on a derivation of value that is more general than that adopted

In Chapter V Marx clearly states that he will *from now on* make this
assumption, which he even describes as the 'pure' case. I consider it
almost inconceivable that he would have chosen to distinguish the 'pure'
case as a special one unless he previously felt himself to have been
dealing with a more general, that is 'impure' case.

Moreover there are several points throughout the first four chapters where
he makes it clear that exchange at ratios other than values is quite normal
and indeed fundamental to both capitalism in particular and the commodity
in general. In particular he asserts this of money, in a well-known citation
Suzanne de Brunhoff particularly stresses.

It does not make sense to me that Marx would treat so extensively, at this
early point in the work, of unequal (non-equivalent) exchange unless he
felt that the *category* of value which he had derived was itself
independent of the *ratio* of exchange. For what it is worth and for
the record, my actual belief is that the term he uses to define this
category is 'quantitatively indeterminate' but that it would be wrong to
attach to this term the meaning 'having no magnitude'.

This term means in my opinion 'abstracted from all quantitative
determination', which is a different thing. It is the difference
between saying 2*2=4, which is a quantitatively determinate statement,
and (a+b)*(a-b)=a^2-b^2, which is a quantitatively indeterminate
statement insofar as it has no determinate numbers in it. It remains,
however, perfectly valid when given any definite quantitative
determination. I think Marx's derivation of the category of value
is in fact, in addition to a definition of its general qualitative
properties (being composed of socially necessary abstract labour time
etc) a definition of its abstract algebraic properties (linearity,
etc). There is not space to go into this in detail and I am reluctant
to enter a major discussion on it at this point. I think much more
work is required in understanding how the concept of measurement
and determination appears in Marx as inherited from Hegel, before
it is possible to say with certainty what he means by the phrase
'quantitatively determined' and its opposite.

What I am clear about is that there is a perfectly coherent reading
of the logical argument which does not require price-value
equivalence, and it is this that I think we ought in the main
to be discussing.

There is thus a very strong logical case that this is the best way to
read Marx's argument, i.e. the way which fits best into its whole
structure. In other words it is not a *reconstruction* of Marx but a
*reading* of Marx, to use a well-known phrase.

The writers who re-opened the discussion about whether Marx's
derivation of value from commensurability missed my point. I don't
want to revisit this old argument because it has been adequately
aired. There have been strong objections to the volume of OPE posts
and my own statute of self-limitation is not to repeat what has
already been said. I don't mind other people having this discussion
but I don't want to rejoin it because I would not add anything to
what I have already said.

My point is not that Marx's argument is right or wrong but that it is
logically coherent. Moreover it isn't just Marx's but a very standard
argument from metrology. I think before anyone picks a further argument
with Marx it would be worthwhile first acquainting themselves with the
basics of metrology before ascribing all original sin in this matter to
Marx. I find it very hard to resist thinking that Marx is attacked on
this because he is an easier target than the many other people who
use the same argument.

Whether it is *correct* or not it is *legitimate*; one can build a
coherent reading of Marx's argument from it which is perfectly
acceptable by the standards both of the scientific practice of the
day, and of today. No more needs be said for this particular

Now, the next question is *then* what approach is to be taken when a
text is found that seems not to fit. If Marx really does make a
statement that categorically implies that the equality of prices and
values is essential throughout then we should conclude that his
argument should be reconstructed rather than just reread sympathetically
and we should openly state that this is what we are doing.

The section under discussion is not the section where Marx derives
the value category but where he discusses what he terms the
'quantitative determinacy of the relative form of value'. This is a
specific task in two respects. It is discussing the *relative* form,
and leads on to the equivalent form and thence the value-form; the
issue is therefore how a quantity of use-value comes to express a
quantity of labour-time, that is, how the labour-time in the linen is
expressed, not in numbers of hours but in numbers of coats. Two pages
further on, Marx polemicises explicitly with Bailey on the basis that

"Bailey and many of his predecessors and followers were misled into
seeing the expression of value as merely a quantitative relation,
where as in fact the equivalent form of a commodity contains no
quantitative determinants of value".

The passage itself has a footnote which says "Here, as occasionally
also on previous pages, we use the expression "value" for
quantitatively-determined value, i.e. for the magnitude of value"
I think this a rather significant distinction and I have read
little discussion of it. I think this would be a definite 'research
programme' to be followed.

My view is that Marx considers that for this specific task, it
involves no loss of generality to assume that goods do sell for their
values and therefore adopts it to illustrate the point he wants to
make. This is the point that changes in the ratio in which a use-
value represents an exchange-value is dependent both on changes in
the value in the commodity in the relative position, and in changes
in the value of the commodity in the equivalent position, and that
therefore the exchange-ratio itself provides no quantitative
determination of value.

I see this as no different from the applied mathematics textbooks
which present arguments in terms of weightless rods and infinitely
thin shells, that are then generalised to rods with real weight and
spheres with real thickness. It would be possible to make a more
general argument from the outset but would obscure the simplicity of
the presentation.

We should moreover note that it is a negative, rather than a
positive conclusion; it is an assertion that quantititative
determination cannot be provided purely from exchange-ratios given
in use-value terms. Marx's own positive determination of the
value-form arrives with his derivation of money, a more developed
form and one in which quantitative price-value divergence is not
only admitted but given as a result of the analysis: a very odd
conclusion if the analysis assumes price-value equivalence.

The next step would be to ascertain whether the temporary adoption of
the assumption does in fact impose a loss of generality or whether
one can repeat the argument without the assumption. In a reply to
Simon who made a similar point early in the discussion, I did this
and, I think, demonstrated that the same result can be deduced
without assuming sale at values. The necessary assumption to deduce
Marx's result is only that each commodity in the exchange represents
a quantity of hours given independently of the exchange ratio; that
is, the exchange ratio is determined by the number of hours of x that
exchange for a given number of hours of y.

If, then, the number of hours of y concerned were to be represented
by a different magnitude of the use-value of y for any reason,
whether this be changes in the structure of production or changes in
the structure of circulation, we would find that the exchange-ratio
of y for x in use-value terms would change in proportion to the
change in the ratio of the value of y to its corresponding use-value.

Finally, I think that we have to be very careful in the way any
particular passage is used because of Marx's occasional deployment
of a particular use of dialectic, namely he presents an argument in
an early form in the evolution of thought in order to establish the
inadequacy of this form and progress to a higher form.

I am not generally sympathetic to the kind of argument that wishes
away apparent contradictions in Marx by saying that he is using

But from time to time one must not only read a passage but what comes
next. On occasions he makes a statement which is directly contradicted
by what follows and this is not accidental but deliberate; the aim is
to demonstrate the inadequacy of the terms used to construct the first
statement and the necessity of a different and more general way of looking
at it. His chapter 5 derivation of the necessity of the commodity
labour-power to the creation of surplus-value is the most famous of
this type: he demonstrates the inadequacy of the form of simple
circulation to explain surplus value, from which he deduces the
requirement of a special type of commodity that takes part in
a circuit of a more general kind than simple circulation, namely
the fully capitalist circuit of production followed by circulation.

In the present discussion Marx is at great pains to demonstrate the
inadequacy of the Ricardo-Bailey formulation of value in terms of the
ratios of exchange of two isolated use-values.

He is here en route to the equivalent form and to money. At several
points he indicates that the relative form is inadequate, the reason
being that it considers only the relation between two commodities whereas
in reality, in commodity exchange each commodity is in a relation to the
'whole world of commodities', and possesses an infinite series of expressions
in the form of a quantity of use-value. 20 linen is not just expressed
in 1 coat but in 2 coal, 3 cotton, etc.

When Marx moves to the equivalent form the next step is to say that
in fact each commodity cannot be represented in the use-values of
many different commodities but must actually be represented in the
use-value of one particular commodity, money. Moreover attempts to
represent the exchange-value of commodities in more than one money
lead to the 'exclusion' of the rival monies by each other, so that one
particular money comes to be the sole expression of exchange-value.

At this point, he very clearly states that a *quantitative* discrepancy
between the value-form and price-form is implied in the existence of money.

This only repeats what he systematically indicates from the Philosophy
of Poverty onwards, particularly in his polemic against the time-chitters
and in Zur Kritik, so it is not an accidental or superficial point but
something at the forefront of his mind the entire time.

Thus this particular section of the argument is in my view a 'dialectical
bridge' to a section which is for Marx the key (the derivation of money
and the necessity of price-value discrepancies), much more than a
formal statement of what determines relative price. His whole subsequent
point is that relative price is *not* determined by intrinsic value,
and this section merely a bridge on the way to this conclusion.

In conclusion, the argument presented by Marx at this point

(1) is not part of his derivation of value and is distinguished from
this derivation by his explicit statement that at this point
(distinct from others) he considers the 'quantitatively-determined
magnitude of value'. Anyone who argues that at this point he *does*
employ price-value equivalence must by the same token accept that
elswhere he does *not*. You can't have your cake and eat it.

(2) does not depend on the quantitative determination of value by the
number of hours required to produce it and may be replaced word-for-
word by an identical argument in which embodiment-by-production-alone
is completely absent

(3) cannot be taken out of its proper context, the derivation of the
equivalent-form and money, where it is clearly stated that price
differs quantitatively from value

(4) is by no means as clear an assertion of price-value equivalence
as the Moore-Aveling translation implies.