[OPE-L:3690] Ne Hic Saltaveris!

Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Wed, 20 Nov 1996 17:17:03 -0800 (PST)

[ show plain text ]

Jerry writes:

>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?).

Ah, the Ch. 5 discussion resurfaces after a well-earned hibernation. I
always welcome the chance to address these issues, but rest assured that I
have no great interest in stringing this out. For those who want to see a
clear statement of my argument vis-a-vis Ch. 5, it is presented in the
latest issue of Science & Society.

Skipping to the heart of Jerry's argument:

>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.

I don't think I've ever denied that Marx's main point in Ch. 5 is to argue
the enigma that "Capital...must have its origin both in circulation and not
in circulation." [I, p. 268, Penguin ed.] In fact, I've explicitly affirmed

However, it is inescapable that Marx insists on the *analytical* centrality
of price-value equivalence in his subsequent resolution of his enigma. He
concludes: "We therefore have a double *result.* The transformation of
money into capital *has to be developed on the basis of the immanent laws of
the exchange of commodities, in such a way that the starting-point is the
exchange of equivalents.*" [I, 268-9; emphasis added].

He reiterates this conclusion as the *basis* for his subsequent argument in
Ch. 6:

"The change must *therefore* take place in the commodity which is bought in
the first act of circulation, M--C, but not in its value, for it is
equivalents which are being exchanged, and the commodity is paid for at its
full value."

Absent this condition, there is *no* analytical justification given in Vol.
I, Part 2 for Marx's focus subsequent to Ch. 5 on capitalists' purchase of
labor power *as a commodity* as the basis for capitalist exploitation. That
is: of course capitalists must gain access to the *use value* of labor power
in order to make a profit, but they need not do so by purchasing labor power
as a commodity, as opposed to lending workers the means of production, as in
the historical circuit of usury capital, or hiring contractually specified
labor *services*, as in the the historical circuit of proto-industrial
capital (e.g., the putting-out system).

[Of course an analytical justification for Marx's focus exists, but as I've
argued earlier here and in the S& S article, the basis for this
justification is in historically contingent strategic terms concerning the
nature of class conflict in production, not value-theoretic terms.]

Thus, if one insists that Marx didn't intend price-value equivalence as an
analytical result in Ch. 5, one thereby insists that Marx built the entire
analytical structure of Capital on ephemera. It is no help to say that Marx
understood from the beginning that he was analyzing the capitalist mode of
production, since this begs the *analytical* question that leads Marx to the
purchase and exploitation of labor power as the basis for capitalist profit.
To put it another way: holders of this position seem willing to grant the
possibility that, at least in the terms offered in Volume I, the purchase
and sale of labor power is as incidental to the existence of profits as Marx
holds price-value disparities to be. I think this would be a troubling
conclusion, at best.

> 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).

I agree that it is necessary for Marx to prove that surplus value does not
rise *solely* from exchange. But the proof of this relatively easy, and
doesn't take a full chapter to accomplish. It follows directly from Marx's
stipulation that surplus value is based on the *valorization [i.e. creation]
of value [I, p. 252] rather than the mere redistribution of existing value.
But Marx is manifestly attempting to argue something more in Ch. 5, which is
why he is so emphatic that price-value equivalence is a *result* of his
argument in Ch. 5 (and then elaborates this claim in the final footnote :
If prices actually differ from values, *we must first reduce the former to
the latter, i.e. disregard this situation as an accidental one in order to
observe the phenomenon of the formation of capital on the basis of the
exchange of commodities in its purity..." [I, 269n]

[Incidentally, unless Marx's use of the term "pure" here and elsewhere in
Ch. 5 is a simple tautology, it is undefined and meaningless. No basis has
been established for regarding price-value equivalence as the "pure" case of
commodity exchange in anything but the definitional sense.]

>by my reading, Marx is *not* attempting in Ch. 5 to "prove" the
>assumption of price-value equivalence.

But he *is* explicitly claiming to have shown that the explanation of
surplus value must proceed from the assumption of price-value equivalence
(see citation above), and without such an argument, Marx's subsequent focus
on the purchase of labor power as a commodity is a _non sequitur_ (see
argument above).

And the reason all this matters (I'll mention for others, since Jerry isn't
contesting this point) is that Marx's claim is fallacious: the need to
explain surplus value on the basis of price-value equivalence does not
follow from the arguments Marx gives in Ch. 5, and cannot do so, because the
argument is false.

In fact, I would argue that
>*nowhere* does Marx believe *in actuality* that commodities
>*individually* exchange at their value.

Of course not. He denies this explicitly in the final footnote to Ch. 5.
But this is an irrelevant point: I've never claimed that Marx believed that
commodities "in actuality" exchange at their respective values. Nothing
whatsoever in my argument depends on this.

It is strictly a simplifying
>assumption that is made in order to reveal the more basic relationship
>typical of capitalism.

No, it is necessarily more than that, and Marx explicitly states that it is
more than a simplifying assumption.

> 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.

That's fine; as a *descriptive* matter, we all know that capitalists hire
wage labor, and we all know from the Fundamental Marxian Theorem (or
extensions thereof) that a necessary condition for profit is the existence
of surplus value, i.e. the extracted use value of labor power exceeds the
value embodied in the wage bundle.

But as an *analytical* matter, Marx gives no basis for his focus on hiring
labor power as a commodity, other than the condition of price-value
equivalence. This quite a lacuna, *especially* so if one insists that Marx
intended price-value equivalence only as a "simplifying assumption."

Price-value deviations in terms
>of wages and the value of labor power are assumed to be *ordinarily* the
>case, by my reading.

Sure. See above.

>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.

I agree.

In lieu of a conclusion I'll ask a few questions: do you think that the
connection between surplus value in the capitalist mode of production and
the purchase of labor power as a commodity is purely incidental, or only a
matter of simplifying assumptions?

If so, why does Marx repeatedly insist that this focus is based on the
"result" that price-value equivalence is the necessary starting point for
analyzing surplus value? Why does he invoke this condition at the beginning
of Ch. 6?

If not, what *analytical* basis does Marx give for his focus beginning in
Ch. 6 on buying labor power *as a commodity* rather than lending the means
of production to workers or hiring contractually specific labor *services*
(both of which occur under the capitalist mode of production, even as a
descriptive matter)?

In solidarity, Gil