[OPE-L:7145] [OPE-L:647] Re: Use and abuse of mathematics

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 11 Mar 1999 07:30:18 -0500 (EST)

In [OPE-L:643] Steve C wrote:

> Marx writes on page 127 of the Penguin edition of Volume I the following:
> "....1 quarter of corn = x cwt of iron. What does this equation signify?
> It signifies that a common element of identical magnitude exists in two
> different things, in 1 quarter of corn and similarly in x cwt of iron.
> Both are therefore equal to a third thing, which in itself is neither the
> one or the other."
> 1. This is the crux of the issue on equality that Gil and I have been
> concerned with, not the later passages in Marx where he talks about a
> universal equivalent, etc. Marx here is talking about what the
> fundamental nature of the exchange is when two commodities trade hands.

Perhaps you (and Gil) consider this the issue since you view the above as
a *deductive* step for Marx.

Let me suggest an alternative reading: Suppose Marx is asking how can we
explain the apparent *enigma* or *riddle* that "1 quarter of corn = x cwt
of iron"?

Putting it in another way, what explains the *apparently irrational basis*
for the exchange-value of commodities? Is it use-value? Marx says, no
(Ibid, pp. 127-128). Then, what can it be?

It appears, at first blush, to be a mystery. Yet, it is a "mystery" which
has its origins in the [mystified] way in which social relations are
veiled in the market under capitalism.

>From this perspective, Marx is not trying to *deduce* value (at least in
the normal sense understood by philosophers and economists). Rather, he
is attempting to pose a *question* that is *itself* posed by the way in
which commodity exchange presents itself to economic agents (and, no
doubt, to readers of _Capital_ as well). Thus, we could read the above
passage as an attempt to outline the _apparent_ *mystery* of the
value-form rather than a logical proof for the LTV.

Perhaps part of the problem (in terms of our communicating with each
other on this issue) might be that both Steve and Gil are rejecting
possible Hegelian readings of the text.

In solidarity, Jerry