[OPE-L:7126] [OPE-L:628] Re: Value and equivalence

Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Mon, 08 Mar 1999 13:39:23 -0500

Hello, David. I would very much like to see your EEA paper. I include
my snailmail address at the end of this post.

You write:



>Marx (I:1) says x of A <<==> y of B necessarily implies existence of a

>thing, not itself among commodities in the chain (the expanded form of

>value), whose presence in equal amounts makes the exchange possible and

>establishes its quantitative proportions. He then finds, by a simple

>negative argument (argument by exclusion of alternatives) that this

>must be abstract labor.


>Gil et al question this; and it is imo right to question everything

>down to foundations. Marx certainly does not prove it, and I agree with

>the interpretation that he did not intend to offer a proof, and most

>did not think that this was something that could or should be "proved."

I would agree that the Marx who wrote to Kugelmann in 1868 didn't see the
need for or (perhaps) feasibility of such a proof. [I have severe doubts
as well about the alternative argument he advances in that letter, as
indicated in my post 610] But the Marx writing in Chapter 1 of
<italic>Capital</italic>, Volume I, evidently did, as indicated by his
use of terms such as "therefore", "it follows from this" "cannot be
anything other" and "must therefore". It is this attempt at a deductive
proof that I'm criticizing in this thread.

>Perhaps only exchange values -- relative proportions -- exist. If you

>determine a vector of money prices, or a (slightly shorter) vector of

>relative prices, why do you *need* a value substance, a *tertium



>Instead of getting into the dense thickets of equivalence sets, etc., I

>rather try to *answer* this question, by showing (if I can) that the

>postulate emerges inherently from a full political economy of capitalism

>(leaving other forms of commodity production aside for the moment). I

>most recently approached this not by trying to show that we *need* value

>*first* in order to understand capitalism, but the other way around:
when we

>grasp all aspects of the way in which capitalist exploitation is

>including processes that are not part of conscious calculation by class

>actors, we will find that labor-values are fully and uniquely

>The value postulate is therefore confirmed, and serves as a way to "lock

>the full, multi-layered understanding of capitalist social relations.

I'll look forward to seeing this argument. But as indicated in my
response to Brendan, I don't see how this "other way around" approach can
possibly lead specifically or uniquely to labor values (as Marx defines
them in Chapter 1) as other than epiphenomenal.

>The full argument, as it stands to date, is in my paper for Boston:

>Theory and the Quest for the Core of Capitalism: A New Expedition." For

>anyone who won't be there, and will not receive the bound set of papers,

>will be happy to send a copy on request (snailmail).


>One small point, just on the possibility of the value postulate. Gil's

>counterexample concerning land (which of course is also in Bohn-Bawerk)

>misses a methodological claim that Marx does make, and which imo makes

>sense. Marx programmatically restricts his attention to *reproducible*

>commodities (following Ricardo quite clearly in this), but for a deeper

>reason than Ricardo's: by carrying out (what I like to call) *pure

>reproduction analysis*, Marx focuses in on the most basic and general

>of class formation and exploitation, which in the world of experience

>"real world") is always overlain ("overdetermined"?) by other forms of

>exploitation based on ownership of non-freely-reproducible resources.
It is

>another aspect of the "even if" argument that has been mentioned (by

>on OPE: *even if* there were no monopolies of land and other natural

>resources (Henry George: are you listening), the power of capital to

>surplus value would be massively present, on the basis of ownership over

>production of reproducible commodities.

I agree with this latter point, by the way, but I also note that
reference to labor values (other than as an accounting device for
establishing the condition of exploitation) is unnecessary to establish

> From this standpoint, Marx would

>seem to be justified in ignoring land and other violations of the

>pure-reproduction framework, until *after* the basic capitalist relation

>been theorized.

This goes back to the question of whether Marx is trying to *infer* the
value-relation among commodities from the properties of exchange. If, as
Marx seems to suggest, the mere fact of (systematic) exchange is
sufficient to establish that "something equal" has been expressed, then
this must also hold for exchange of non-commodities, which leads to the
proof by contradiction. The only valid way around this objection is to
demonstrate that the "equalizing" properties of exchange *only* arise in
the exchange of (reproducible) commodities. I note, however, that Marx
not only never shows such a thing, but also never uses the adjective
"reproducible" (or its synonyms) in the part of his Chapter 1 argument
I'm addressing. Something can be a commodity and yet not reproducible.
Van Gogh labored to produce his self-portraits, for example, and he
definitely wished to exchange them.

Here's another way of putting the same point. Suppose you focus
exclusively on exchange of reproducible commodities as a *postulate*.
Then no reference whatsoever to putatively equalizing properties of
exchange need be invoked to establish Marx's conclusion that the only
thing these commodities have in common is being products of labor. Here

1. Consider (only) the set of reproducible commodities.

2) Reproducible commodities are products of labor.

3) There is no other property common to members of this set. That is,
"This common element cannot be a geometrical, physical, chemical, or
other natural property of commodities. Such properties come into
consideration only to the extent that the make the commodities useful,
i.e. turn them into use-values. But clearly, the exchange relation of
commodities is characterized precisely by its abstraction from their
use-values..." [Capital I, p. 127, Penguin Ed.]

[I find this claim dubious as well, but if it's wrong Marx's conclusion
is wrong in any case. So let me assume it for the sake of argument.]

4) Consequently, "If then we disregard the use-value of commodities,
only one property remains, that of being products of labour." [Ibid, p.

Voila. Relations of exchange and the putative properties thereof are
beside the point, once we agree to limit ourselves to the set of
reproducible commodities.

> He thus incurs an obligation to show later, by successive

>concretization, that land, and indeed other forms of exchange mentioned

>Gil, such as financial instruments, can be integrated into what becomes

>fuller, more concrete picture. In general, most of the critiques of the

>value postulate -- and they are all in Bohn-Bawerk -- trace back to one

>another violation of the pure reproduction assumption: land and natural

>resources; skill differentials that cannot be accounted for by training

>education; and (most clearly) the momentary ("short-run") market in

>quantities supplied are fixed (the famous horse fair example in

>Bohm-Bawerk's *Positive Theory of Capital*, for example, or the cases of

>non-reproducible goods like rare paintings).

Except one: the critique of the claim that exchange itself has the power
to "express something equal" in the sense required by Marx's Chapter 1

The various departures David refers to are just means of showing to the
contrary that it is not *exchange* which establishes the unique
commonality that commodities are all products of labor.