[OPE-L:3723] RE: Hairsplitting

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Thu, 28 Nov 1996 09:42:33 -0800 (PST)

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>When this is done, it is clear that Marx was expressing one and the same idea
>in various ways again and again --- price-value differences cause the value of
>constant and variable capital to differ from the value of means of production
>and subsistence. The *conclusive* evidence that supports this interpretation
>is that Marx's Ch. 9 transformation and statements later in Vol. III based on
>it *make sense* under this interpretation, while they fail to do so under the
>two-system interpretation. Both Fred and Alejandro have made this point in
>the recent discussion, but it has been resisted and has not been accorded the
>weight it deserves.
>I do not understand the reason for this resistance. I have tried at several
>points, on this list and elsewhere, to have a serious discussion about it, but
>to little avail. This is unfortunate because, if there is no agreement that
>an interpretation in which a text makes sense is prima facie superior to one
>in which it doesn't, I don't think there can be much forward movement in
>interpretative controversies. Criteria for deciding among interpretations are
>needed. Why has this become so controversial?

Paul C:
The reason why I am reluctant to accept the single system interpretation
is that in order to make a particular sense of what were working notes later
by Engels as volume 3, it involves discarding the clear and explicit definitions
of value that Marx later published in volume 1.

It seems that the whole motivation is based upon an attempt to preserve the
'one conservation law to many' that occurs in Marxs drafts for the theory of
prices of production. It is only in the light of later criticism that the
simultaneous conservation of total price and total profit appeared to be
inconsistent. I see no reason to believe that Marx had forseen what was in
any case a relatively arcane criticism that was to be made by later
economists. I can not remember reading anything in Capital to indicate that
Marx had tried to make total prices = total values and total profit = total
surplus value after transforming input prices, and had realised that
this was impossible.

This apparent senselessness of the two equalities is one which only appeared
once the criticisms had been made by others after Marx's death. We have no
means of telling how he would have responded to these criticisms had he read

The fact that one can derive contradictions from Marx's writings is not
almost all theories later turn out to have contradictions/lacunae in them that
were not apparent when they were originally formulated. When theories are first
put forward they are formulated in relatively lax terms which in the light
of later knowledge can be seen to be ambiguous. One should not assume
that ambiguities that are evident today would have been evident intially.
The argument about whether Marx had a single or dual system approach
to value is anachronistic, it projects todays concerns into the past.

It does so in what seems to me to be a fundamentally defensive and ideological
fashion, and, even within these terms seems to want to defend a relatively
minor hypothesis - the dual conservation of total prices and total profits.
In what way is this a useful or important result in predicting how economic
relations will develop?

In preserving the dual conservation law, you are forced to throw out the
classical labour theory of value, which in comparison, seems to me to be
an imensely useful tool in explaining and predicting economic phenomena.
Paul Cockshott