[OPE-L:3729] RE: Hairsplitting

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Fri, 29 Nov 1996 00:46:14 -0800 (PST)

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A reply to Paul Cockshott's ope-l 3723.

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 published by Engels as volume 3, it involves discarding
the clear and explicit definitions of value that Marx later published in
volume 1."

The manuscripts were not merely notes, they were draft manuscripts. Paul
implies that Marx may not have worked out the issues to his own satisfaction.
The evidence against this is considerable:

(a) Marx stated clearly that he prepared Vol. I for publication only after
the whole of _Capital_ had been worked out conceptually.
(b) Marx refers in Vol. I to the fact that he had resolved the problem that
profit is disproportional to the amount of labor extracted, and he will
present this resolution in the 3rd book.
(c) Engels wanted him to pre-empt objections to the theory of surplus-value
that readers of Vol. I would raise. Marx declined, indicating that he could
indeed answer these objections, but to understand the answer, one needed to
understand the transformation of values into production prices, and he didn't
wish to include it in Vol. I because it would spoil the dialectical structure
of the work.
(d) Nowhere in any extant manuscript or letter is there the slightest hint
that he had misgivings about his resolution of the problem.
(e) Marx did not consider it a minor matter. On the contrary, he argued that
the Ricardian school disintegrated because it couldn't resolve the problem.
Given the importance of this issue to him, it strains the imagination to think
that he would have consented to the publication of Vol. I, and moreover would
have stated explicitly that he had resolved the apparent contradiction, had he
not been sure that he had done so.
(f) Marx's way of resolving the problem follows immediately from the
demonstration that value can only be redistributed in exchange, though it is
conserved in the aggregate. This demonstration is not contained merely in
some unpublished "notes," but in the several editions of Vol. I that Marx
himself published and revised, namely in Ch. 5 of Vol. I. He certainly
expressed no qualms about that demonstration. How then could he possibly have
had any doubt that total price and profit equal total value and surplus-value?

I don't agree with Paul's view that the single-system interpretation requires
"discarding the clear and explicit definitions of value" given at the start of
Vol. I, though I agree with Alejandro that they aren't "definitions," but
initial determinations of the concept of value. Dialectically, abstract
determinations should not be privileged over ones that are further
particularized, but the opposite. Human anatomy is the key to the anatomy of
the ape. In any case, the single-system interpretation does not require that
one discard Marx's own specifications that the value of a commodity is
determined exclusively by the labor-time socially necessary for its
production, or the labor-time contained in it. It requires discarding some
particular INTERPRETATIONS of these statements, that is all. Since these
interpretations lead to the conclusion that Marx contradicted himself, while
the single-system interpretation can understand these statements in a manner
consistent with Marx's own account of the transformation, the latter is a
superior interpretation of these statements.

It should be noted that until Ch. 7, i.e., until he gets to the capitalistic
production process, Marx does not say one word about how the labor-time
necessary for the commodity's production is itself determined. Then, he says
(in Chs. 7 and 8) it is the sum of the newly added labor plus the value
transferred from the used-up means of production. He definitely does NOT say
that the latter is determined by the labor-time that would be needed at the
end of the production period to reproduce the means of production. Rather, he
determines the value transferred from the monetary value paid for the means of
production and the relation between the monetary and labor-time units, just as
the *temporal* single-system interpretaton does. Of course, at this point,
he is assuming the means of production were acquired at their value, so his
procedure allows 2 different interpretations --- the value transferred could
be either the *value* of the means of production or the *price* of the means
of production. Thus, in Vol. III, he clarifies that the latter is the case.
Why didn't he say so before? This is a result of the transformation, and it
would have spoiled the dialectical method of presentation to have "defined"
value in this way from the start.

Paul C: "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

Nor can I. This is therefore evidence in favor of the single-system
interpretation. What Marx does say (in Ch. 9) is that the transformation of
input prices doesn't negate the equalities. Moreover, Paul's comment is based
on a misunderstanding of the starting point of Marx's transformation in Ch. 9.
He does NOT begin with the values of means of production and labor-power. He
begins with the values of CONSTANT AND VARIABLE CAPITAL, and he notes in
several places that these can differ from the values of means of production
and subsistence.

Paul C: "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 them."

What Marx would have said is not relevant. What his theory implies and
suggests is relevant. In terms of his theory, if total price is (un)equal to
total value, then total profit is (un)equal to total surplus-value, and
vice-versa. The satisfaction of one equality without the other is meaningless
and irrational. No one has been able to explain it successfully. Anwar
Shaikh tried, but Hans Erhbar and Marx Glick showed that he had failed to do
so. And again, both equalities follow immediately from the conservation of
value in exchange, demonstrated in Ch. 5 of Vol. I. I agree that, by
themselves, the exact quantitative satisfaction of both equalities is not very
important. If one could explain rationally, on the basis of Marx's value
theory, how one equality could be satisfied without the other being satisfied,
I'd be willing to accept that conclusion. But I don't think it is possible
and I certainly haven't seen it done. I've just heard and read a lot of
gibberish meant to rationalize the irrational.

What *is* important is that the rate of profit is not affected by the
transformation, and that the rate of profit is determined by labor-time
magnitudes. These crucial results of Marx are not replicated in any version
of the two-system interpretation, and the latter is not replicated by any
version of the simultaneous single-system interpretation.

(The above two paragraphs are, inter alia, my response to Ian's post.)

Paul C: "The argument about whether Marx had a single or dual system approach
to value is anachronistic, it projects todays concerns into the past."

I think this point is well taken. The issue should instead be which
interpretation is consonant with Marx's theory. I don't want to claim that
Marx was a proponent of the TSS interpretation, only that it is the
interpretation that conforms to his value theory.

Paul C: "... 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?"

The two equalities together imply that the general profit rate (whether
uniform or not) equals s/(c+v). Hence, they imply that the magnitude of the
profit rate is determined in production, before commodities go to market, and
that the amount of surplus-labor extracted sets a quantitative limit on the
profit rate. This dispels important illusions created by competition. If
the extraction of living labor stagnates, while more dead labor gets
reinvested, the profit rate must fall. Hence, the FRP.

Paul C: "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."

Why is this "classical"? Neither Marx nor Ricardo nor any Ricardian nor Smith
held that commodities exchange in proportion to vertically integrated labor
coefficients. I'm NOT asking anyone to abandon it, please note, only to
acknowledge that the evidence shows it was not MARX'S theory. Why is the
distinction so hard to grasp? Paul and other proponents of the two-system
interpretation are certainly not reluctant to criticize Marx or to emphasize
their differences from Marx. Why then does the demand that people stop
imputing their own value theory to Marx *sound to them* like a demand that
they throw out their own theory?

I thank Paul for his reply, but except for his implicit reference to Marx's
statements that the value of a commodity is determined by the labor-time
needed for its production, I don't think Paul really responded to the point I
made, which he quoted at the top of his post, and which read in part:

"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?"

Most of Paul's post gives various objections to the single-system
interpretation but fails to specify criteria for deciding among them or to
discuss the one I proposed. Again, the comment about the "definition" of
value is the exception, but as I noted above, Paul's *interpretation* of this
"definition" fails to produce a reading of the text which allows it to make
coherent sense, so it also runs afoul of my criterion.

Andrew Kliman