[OPE-L:2465] Re: assumptions, assumptions, assumptions

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Tue, 4 Jun 1996 15:41:52 -0700

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A reply to Jerry's ope-l 2445:

Thanks for trying to explain levels of abstraction, Jerry. I still don't
get it though. I understand "abstraction" (pretty well), but the notion
of an ordering of levels seems to have a rather limited validity. It
works as a way of explaining Hegel's _Logic_, perhaps, which is
structured on the self-development of the Idea from its simplest beginning.
But I don't see how it works for, e.g., _Capital_. That book is not
structured in the same way, IMO. Rather, Vol. I deals with the process of
production of capital, Vol. II with the circulation of capital; Vo. III
with the forms of appearance of the process as a whole. Vol. IV (TSV)
with the history of the theory of surplus-value. I don't think the idea
that these are "ordered" in terms of increasing concreteness holds up.
E.g., what's not concrete about the analysis of the production process?

I realize a lot has been written on this, and that an increasing number
of people want to link the structure of _Capital_ to that of Hegel's
_Logic_. I've read a lot of this, and even written a wee bit about it,
and I'm not convinced. Not infrequently, appeal is made to the unpublished
intro to the _Grundrisse_, on the movement from abstract to concrete.
But there are two huge problems with that interpretation. (1) Marx is
there referring to the method of inquiry, not of presentation; (2) In
the Preface to the CCPE, Marx says explicitly that he is omitting the
Intro., and that the reader who wishes to follow him at all must
pass from the *special* to the *general*. I.e., the reverse process.

As to workers living on air, I realize Jerry's not really into
discussing the interpretation of the passages. But it still seems
absolutely clear to me that MArx *is* assuming zero wages. Living on
air, alone, would mean wages = 0; scarcely needing to work for oneself
seems to modify this a bit (and I wonder about the translation here).
But in any case, the modification is very minor; wages are infinitesmally
greater than zero. The limits that cannot be overstepped doesn't mean
what Jerry implies. What it means is that a higher *rate* of exploitation
cannot always compensate for a fall in employment. Even if the rate of
exploitation is infinite, the *mass* of surplus-value has a definite
limit, determined by the length of the workday, the number of workers (and
the intensity of work).

The second passage assumes the full 24 hours in the day are "wholly
appropriated by capital." That means surplus-labor is 24 hours (per
worker), so necessary labor is 0 hours. Now, Jerry acknowledges that
the passage indirectly refers to necessary labor (equalling zero?).
But he says it doesn't deal with wages or variable capital. Yet
the only way necessary labor can be zero is if variable capital is
zero, and that means that wages are zero.

Jerry seems to imply that Marx could not be assuming that wages are 0
because, if they were, then "why would they work for capital at all?"
This point would make sense were we trying to interpret a model of the
functioning of the economy as we observe it. But as I've been trying
to say, that's not the only purpose of "models" and formalizations.
Marx makes the wages = 0 assumption in order to clarify that there is
a limit to exploitation *other* than wages. He's trying in that
context to explain the logic of the FRP (the rising composition of
capital can outstrip increased exploitation), not account for the
supply of labor-power. Its a different problem and a different
abstraction is appropriate to it.

BTW, it isn't only Marx, or I, who assume this. Troughout the literature
on the FRP, there's a lot of discussion of the "maximum profit rate."

Andrew Kliman