[OPE-L:3604] Re: "Surface/deep structure" or Marx and Plato

aramos@aramos.b (aramos@aramos.bo)
Wed, 6 Nov 1996 04:04:47 -0800 (PST)

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Thanks to Alllin for his replies in OPE-L 3602.

Just now, I do not have time to response in detail to Allin because
I have to go to my "dirty-money-earning" job. But I have some minutes
I do want to comment on Allin's last statemets:

Allin says:

But in my opinion it would be a grievous mistake to "mix" the two
[iterative procedures, one for "prices" and another for "values"],
and to contaminate the idea of the "labour-time contained in" or
"required to produce" a commodity -- a phrase Marx repeats literally
hundreds of times in Capital as what determines value -- with
magnitudes derived from the level of inter-capitalist competition and
profit-rate equalization, magnitudes from the "surface" of
capitalism. Labour-times are part of the "deep structure" of the
capitalist economy.


It seems to me that, beyond the "textual exegesis" of Vol III, Ch. 9,
is this kind of "philosophical" vision what is separating us. I do
not imagine the capitalism -as Marx describes it- SIMPLY as both a
"deep structure" and a "surface", that cannot be "contaminated"
between them.

I feel that, for instance, in Vol. I, Ch. 1, the thing is
a "little bit" more complicated. The idea of a "deep structure" and
"surface" is a physical methaphor that could imply, in some
degree, a "Platonic reading of Marx": a "deep", "hard" "TRUE-world"
and a "superficial", "apparent", "FALSE-world". Of course, this is
THE discussion of the entire Western Phylosophy, precisely, since
Plato set it. But in the middle we have, among others, Aristotle,
Kant, Hegel and... Marx.

Coming back to Vol. I, Ch. 1: As far as I know Marx speaks of a
"value substance" and a "value form". I think that need no a long
exegetical discussion about this. Value-substance and value-form
are a particular Marx way to deal with this two aspects that Allin
points out: "deep structure" and "surface" in Ch. 1, Vol. I.

So, on the one hand, we know that what Allin says is true: value-
substance and value-form cannot be "contaminated" between then. They
are, indeed, two radically "separated poles". But on the other hand,
given the "commodity nature" of the reality under analysis, this
"separated poles" must constitute some sort of unity. The concept of
value is precisely devoted with this aim: it seems to me that "value"
can be conceived as a contradictory unity of these two separated
poles. In particular, value IS labor-time (socially necessary) that
must APPEAR as money. In mercantile-capitalist society there is no
other way for the "deep structure" to be "the deep structure" other
than to "appear externally". There is, of course, a "dialectical"
tension between these two poles that cannot be "contaminated" between
them and that, at the same time, must be a "single-structure" as, I
think, Bruce Roberts says.

I do not find that the metaphor of "deep structure" and "surface" is
the better one to deal with this (despite, obviously, Marx uses it)
because, inevitable, puts the "surface" as something "false" (to use
the Platonic version) or "accidental" (to use the Aristotelic
version.) In my opinion, as I said, in Marx, the vision is a little
bit more complicated and the "dialectical vision" of the problem is
what differentiates him than, for instance, Plato.

Coming back. "Substance" must appear as a "form", "labor-time" must
appear as "money". This also means that money is a representation of
labor time. So:

"Money is labor time in the form of a general object, or the
objectification of general labor time, labor time as a general
commodity." (Grundrisse, Penguin, p. 168)

This is Marx's "specific treatment" of this headache-
producing contradiction of Western Philosophy. I think Allin will
agree with me that, in the above-cited phrase, we have some sort of
"contamination" between "surface" and "deep structure". Or, in other
terms, that in this "chunk" we cannot easily apply the metaphor of
"surface" and "deep structure".

Another, symmetrical (very quoted): "Money as a measure of value is
the necessary form of appearance of the measure of value which is
immanent in commodities, namely labor-time" Vol. I, Penguin, p. 188.

Throught the whole Marx's text I find both the "separation" (what
Allin stresses) and the "contamination" (what, I think, Allin is
forgetting). The "reading exercise" is precisely, to deal with this
"twofold conceptual way", with this "interwoved path" (is this

A striking case of "contamination"/"separation" is the frequent Marx
mention of what I like to call the "monetary expression of labor"
(MEL), the amount of money (form) in which is represented one unit of
labor-time (substance). He uses this ratio, I do not if "hundreds of
times", but frequently; and this ratio (I think), plays an important
role in the theory: It is precisely, the quantitave relation between
the two poles than Allin would seen ONLY separated.

My time is over, so simply a mention to Vol. III, Ch. 9: The fraction
of VALUE constituted by "k", the cost price, is an amount of money
(form) that the capitalist must invest. This money is the
"necessary form of appearance" of some amount of labor-time
(substance). So, we can conceive production-price as an
amount of labor-time. What is the "socially necessary labor time"
that is "behind" VALUE? The labor-time represented by the sum of
money that the capitalists must invest + a surplus-labor. It is
absurd to think that the part corresponding to the cost-price
corresponds to the labor effectively contained in the "inputs"
because this labor-time is actually "appearing" as a sum of money
which obviously differ from it. So, this "sum of money". "k", is also
a "sum of labor-time", a necessary and daily "contamination" between
the "two worlds" in capitalist society.

Thank you Allin. We follow this later, I hope.

Alejandro, 6.11.96