[OPE-L:3801] Givens in Marx's theory

aramos@aramos.b (aramos@aramos.bo)
Mon, 9 Dec 1996 09:39:17 -0800 (PST)

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I would want to discuss an important Fred's statement, put
forward in several recent posts, as well as in Fred's
published works.

For example, in OPE-L [3715] Fred says:

The constant capital and variable capital that are
taken as given in Marxs theory are quantities of
money capital that are consumed in the production of
commodities... [The] determination of prices of
production does not change the magnitudes of the
initial givens of money constant capital and variable
capital. The magnitudes of money constant capital and
variable capital that are taken as given in the
beginning are themselves eventually explained as

Fred has been pointing out that the initial "givens" in
Marx's theory are amounts of money, not "physical
quantities", as in the traditional interpretation claims.
Broadly, I agree with this. However, I think, I need a
clarification concerning his position.

2. In my opinion, the "core" of Marx's monetary theory is
contained in a statement that I have cited several times:

Money is labour time in the form of a general
object, or the objectification of general
labour time, labour time as a general commodity.
Grundrisse, p. 168.

(In a certain sense, this means that Marx has not a
"monetary theory" as something different from his theory of
value. Money --from the simplest to the most complex form--
monetary theory is a constitutive part of his theory of

So, when Fred says that the "givens" in Marx's theory are
quantities of money, actually these amounts are the
representation of quantities of labor-time. It is clear
that, as long as the amount of labor-time represented
by one unit of money is constant, Fred's formulation is
equivalent to say that the "givens" in Marx's theory are
amounts of labor-time.

Yet, what does happen if the quantitative relationship
labor-time/money changes? What are then the "givens",
labor-time or money quantities?

3. Marx's considers such a situation in a passage of "Value,
Price and Profit", which I find worthy to quote extensively:
(Note that in this case Marx assumes that money is "gold",
so that the relation labor-time/money is given by the
productive conditions of gold mining. This is not a
necessary framework to consider this problem.)

By the discovery of more fertile mines and so forth, two
ounces of gold might, for example, cost no more labour
to produce than one ounce did before. The value of gold
would then be depreciated by one half, or fifty per
cent. As the values of all other commodities would then
be expressed in twice their former money prices, so
also the same with the value of labour. Twelve hours of
labour, formely expressed six shillings, would now be
expressed in twelve shillings. If the working-man's
wages should remain three shillings, instead of rising
to six shillings, the money price of his labour
would only be equal to half the value of his labour,
and his standard of life would fearfully deteriorate.
This would also happen in a greater or lesser degree if
his wages should rise, but not proportionately to the
fall in the value of gold. In such a case nothing would
have been changed, either in the productive powers of
labour, or in supply and demand, or in values. Nothing
would have been changed except the money names of those
values. To say that in such a case the workman ought
not to insist upon a proportionate rise in wages, is to
say that he must be content to be paid with names,
instead of with things. Value, Price and Profit,
International Publishers, p. 52.
[Note the gender-biased language; incredibly this
work was edited by Marx's daughter, Eleanor.]

4. In the text, Marx puts forward a reduction in the "value
of gold" --the relation labor-time/money and focus on
variable capital. (Note that such a change would also
affect constant capital and, indeed, the profit rate.)

It seems to me that, after the change in the relation labor-
time/money we cannot consider the MONEY variable capital as
"a given". Marx rather suggests that the "given" magnitude
is "necessary labor", the fraction of the working day for
which workers obtain an equivalent. So, the initial
increase in the rate of surplus value produced by the
inflationary process induced by the reduction in the ratio
labor-time/money is eventually compensated by means of a
rise in money wages. The money-magnitude is "aligned" to
labor-time magnitude.

(Of course, the rise in the rate of surplus-value rate
could not be completely reverted by workers, but this does
not affect Marx's suggestion that the money magnitude
eventually "follows" the labor-time magnitude.)

So, IMO, the "givens" here are not money magnitudes, but
labor-time magnitudes. In other words, Fred is implicitly
assuming that the relation labor-time/money IS A CONSTANT,
as --it is important to note this-- is usual in Marx.

So, my questions to Fred are: Is it true that you make this
assumption? What would be the implications for your
interpretation to dropt the constancy in the relation

Alejandro Ramos M.