[OPE-L:3653] RE: Operationalization of Marxian theory

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Mon, 11 Nov 1996 00:30:11 -0800 (PST)

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In ope-l 3648, Duncan referred to "sharp doctrinal differences that at the
moment threaten to stall fruitful research."

This is the first time I've heard such a concern expressed. I'd be interested
in knowing why Duncan thinks the new debate over Marx's value theory threatens
to stall research. It is certainly not my intention to stall any sort of
research, fruitful or not, and if my efforts to understand Marx's value theory
better are obstructing things, that is troubling.

I wouldn't describe the differences as doctrinal. They are mostly
interpretative and secondarily theoretical, but one doesn't have to be a
Marxist to accept any particular interpretation of what Marx wrote, it seems
to me.

My take on things is that a lot of fruitful research has emerged from the
re-examination of Marx's value theory. To date, however, not much of it has
been empirical research. Still, it is unclear to me how the effort to
understand Marx's own value theory would impede research on other matters.

In his post, Duncan also wrote "The empirical terrain is also the area where
we are most likely to resolve or compromise the sharp doctrinal differences
...." I don't think this is the case, mostly because the differences are
mainly interpretative and secondarily theoretical, and also because I don't
think data solve theoretical difficulties. The different interpretations of
Marx's value theory correspond to, and to some extent lead to, very different
understandings of the meaning of Marx's categories, of the purpose of his
work, of the important questions, of the kind of answers that are needed, and
so forth.

For instance, after the "Sraffians" won the debate on the internal
inconsistency of Marx's value theory, a lot of effort began to be directed to
the task of showing differences between values and prices to be small. Such
research is interesting in its own right, but IMO it is orthogonal to Marx's
value theory and it sidesteps and minimizes the theoretical problem of
transformation rather than answering it.

Intrinsically bound up with the TSS interpretation, I think, are ideas such as
the following: the aggregate equalities were important to Marx's theory (I
for one think that differences between relative values and relative prices
were not); the existence of the equalities is a theoretical question which no
amount of data can resolve (any and all sets of money prices are consistent
with Marx's resolution of the problem); the importance of the transformation
is that total value and surplus-value set the magnitude of the profit rate;
the determination of value by labor-time is not identical to the determination
of value by technology; in Marx's theory, there are not two entities "value"
and "price", one of which is more fundamental than and determines the other
(the passages which seem to indicate that Marx held this really indicate that
the production of value precedes its realization and distribution and
therefore determines them in the aggregate); all value and surplus-value are
created in capitalist production, in Marx's theory, and exchange redistributes
them without affecting them in the aggregate; etc. Given the above, I think,
it is clear I will necessarily give a different interpretation to the data
coming out of the 2-system, technological camp and I'll necessarily have a
different estimation of its importance than its proponents have.

I also do not think the likely result of the debate will be either agreement
or compromise. The differences are too deep. Nor do I think agreement or
(especially) compromise is particularly desirable. I would simply like the
opportunity for myself and others interested in doing so to return to and
concretize Marx's Marxism (as I understand it and with the aim of
understanding it better). The problem is that I have to fight mightily for
this simple right, largely because the conventional wisdom implicitly claims
that Marx's Marxism does not exist and because proponents of the dominant
interpretation of Marx's value theory still do not recognize the legitimate
existence of other ones. Would it be possible to get published, for instance
in the RRPE, a paper that takes for granted the internal coherence of Marx's
law of the FRP, and uses it to discuss crisis, the current world economy, or
whatever? Contrast this to how easily so much stuff gets published that takes
for granted the internal incoherence of these and other things.

Andrew Kliman