[OPE-L:3689] Hic Rhodus, hic salta!

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu.pratt.ed (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu.pratt.edu)
Wed, 20 Nov 1996 06:29:09 -0800 (PST)

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I discovered the following in my "postponed-mail" folder. It refers to the
Great (and protracted) Ch. 5 Discussion from the Spring (Hi Gil!). As it
concerns issues which were recently raised by Fred in [OPE-L:3680], I have
decided to send the message now (better late than never?).

Responding to Gil's [OPE-L:1480]:

> > I think this question relates to a discussion we had some time back
> > concerning the starting point, and the subject of investigation, of
> > _Capital_. If one believes that the subject of investigation is
> > capitalism (as Marx suggests in the first sentence of V1), rather than
> > commodity production in general, then one can say not only that the
> > transition from "A" to "B" "might" happen, but that it *has*
> > happened.
> Indeed so, Jerry, but is that enough for Marx's avowed purposes in
> Volume I?


The avowed purpose (of _Capital_) is: "it is the ultimate aim of this
work to reveal the economic law of motion of modern society." The starting
point for that analysis is the commodity since "the wealth of societies
in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an 'immense
collection of commodities."

On the question of "might" versus "will" happen (Gil and Mike's
surprising agreement), it is interesting to note how Marx closes Ch. 5:

"Hic Rhodes, hic salta."

["Here is Rhodes, here dance. (Which amounts to this: 'You say you can
dance in Rhodes; well, suppose this to be Rhodes and dance now!' Marx
applies this, as an analogy, to the capitalist, who always assumes to
give value for value in his exchanges, and yet reaps an increase"-- W. H.
Emmett _The Marxian Economic Handbook and Glossary_, London, George Allen
& Unwin Ltd, 1925, p. 320]

A footnote (p. 269) to the Penguin edition describes this quotation thusly:

"This is the reply made, in Aesop's fables, to a boaster who claimed that
he had once made an immense leap in Rhodes. 'Rhodes is here. Leap here
and now.' But it is also a reference back to the *Preface* to Hegel's
*Philosophy of Right*, where he uses the quotation to illustrate his view
that the task of philosophy is to apprehend and comprehend what is,
rather than what ought to be."

The task, as I see it, of Ch. 5 is not to justify the assumption of
price-value equivalence, rather it is to present an enigma -- the
"contradictions of the general formula" (M-C-M'), which appears to
political economy to justify the belief that value arises in exchange. It
is a necessary stage in Marx's argument since capitalists and political
economy understand the appearance of the general formula, but not its
content and meaning. In other words, Ch. 5 is a transitional step to Ch.
6 and future chapters whereby Marx attempts to explain the basis for
this appearance and how it is rooted in the conditions of capitalist
production (which is, after all, the subject matter of V1). Therefore,
by my reading, Marx is *not* attempting in Ch. 5 to "prove" the
assumption of price-value equivalence. In fact, I would argue that
*nowhere* does Marx believe *in actuality* that commodities
*individually* exchange at their value. It is strictly a simplifying
assumption that is made in order to reveal the more basic relationship
typical of capitalism. What Marx attempts to do in Ch. 6 and some other
chapters is to reveal the *class relations* particular to capitalism and
the exploitive relation between capital and labor. The assumption that
laborers receive a wage equal to the value of their labor power, is
asserted to be *only* true on average. Price-value deviations in terms
of wages and the value of labor power are assumed to be *ordinarily* the
case, by my reading.

Of course, a further explanation of *how* -- in actuality -- there arise
these differentials is an important subject for investigation and one
which, I believe, Marx investigates incompletely.

[11/96 note: we still haven't discussed all of the specific determinants
of the wage and wage differentials].

Also, the above issues (the subject matter of _Capital_, i.e. capitalism;
and the starting point of _Capital_, i.e. the commodity) can be
challenged contra Marx. Reuten and Williams, for instance, in _Value-Form
and the State_ challenged the idea that the commodity is the appropriate
starting point and instead claim that "self-production" and the dialectic
of "sociation" and "dissociation" should be the starting point.

[11/96 note: we still haven't discussed the Reuten-Williams critique re
the starting point of _Capital_].

In solidarity,