Re: [OPE-L] What is most important in Marx's theory?

From: Pen-L Fred Moseley (fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU)
Date: Sun Mar 11 2007 - 10:24:49 EDT

Hi Riccardo, thanks for your comments.  My responses below.

Quoting ope-admin@RICARDO.ECN.WFU.EDU:

> Date: Sat, 10 Mar 2007 19:03:56 +0100
> From: Riccardo Bellofiore <>
> Subject: Re: [OPE-L] What is most important in Marx's theory?
> At 10:58 -0500 10-03-2007, Pen-L Fred Moseley wrote:
>> Quoting Jerry Levy <Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM>:
>>>> The title of the book is Capital.  Capital is defined as "money that
>>>> makes more money" i.e. M . (M + dM).  This is the main phenomenon to be
>>>> explained in Marx's theory, which he highlights and emphasizes in
>>>> Chapter 4 of Volume 1.
>>> Hi Fred:
>>> Capital is not "defined" as  "money that makes more money".  Capital
>>> represents a set of  specific SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS,  some of which
>>> are expressed quantitatively.
>> "The value originally advanced, therefore, not only remains intact
>> while in circulation, but increases its MAGNITUDE, adds to itself a
>> surplus-value, or is valorised.  And this movement converts it into
>> CAPITAL."  (C.I. 252; emphasis added)
> Hi Fred.
> Would you object, in defining capital not only
> as *money in process* (and I agree), but also as
> *value in process*, and as such (value AND money
> in process), capital? A *process* in which
> *commodities* and *moneys* are *mere* forms?
> Commodities and money only in certain *specific*
> social relations of production become capital.
> And this is what the *process* above refers to,
> IMHO. Money begetting money may come out from
> mere rapacity. It becomes a systematic process
> only with those social relations of production.
> There is no need of a sophisticated theory to
> know that M-M' because of rapacity. The point is
> to understand how and why this happens
> *systematically*.

I agree that capital could also be defined as "value in process", where
value alternatively assumes the forms of money and commodities.

And I agree that the main question of Volume 1 is to explain how M-M'
happens systematically, for the economy as a whole.

>>> What Marx is trying to do in posing what seems to be a puzzle --
>>> what is the source of dM? -- is to explain how this dM is an expression
>>> of  SURPLUS VALUE.    Surplus value represents a SOCIAL
>>> RELATION: class exploitation is QUALITATIVE but the character
>>> of  the COMMODITY-FORM  means that this QUALITATIVE relation
>>> comes to be expressed QUANTITATIVELY.   Thus,  value and
>>> surplus value have BOTH  qualitative and quantitative dimensions.  It
>>> is a a VERY serious mistake, imo, to think that the quantitative is the
>>> "most important dimension" of Marx's theory because it mystifies and
>>> obscures the central importance of the qualitative social relations which
>>> he seeks to explain.
>> I don’t think that we disagree too much on this issue (maybe you do).
>> The difference is more a matter of emphasis.  I certainly agree that
>> Marx’s theory of surplus-value proves the exploitation of workers.  But
>> I emphasize that a quantitative theory is necessary in order to do this.
> "Proves" does not seem to me the appropriate
> term here. The real point is to show that any
> new value produced comes ONLY from the
> objectualisation of *living* labor in monetary
> form: from the exploitation as the USE of labor
> power. This requires an argument, which is this:
> the capitalists have all the money, and the
> commodities (means of production, means of
> subsistence); without putting the workers (as
> 'free' individuals compelled to sell their
> labour power) to work, *no* value produced,
> hence no surplus value, and even no transfer of
> value from constant capital. And this is not
> granted ex ante, before the actual production
> process, because of the *specific* nature of
> labour power, a commodity whose use value is
> inseparable from the seller: according to the
> "right" of commoditry production, that use value
> pertains to who has bought that labour power; at
> the same time it is clear that the workers have
> any reason to be interested in what is done of
> the use value which can be extracted from the
> commodity they have sold, because it is THEIR
> body and minds that capitalist have to *use*
> when they extract living labour. This, btw, has
> NOTHING to do with the ahistoric feature that
> labour is active, and nature or means of
> production etc passive (that's why I cannpot
> agree with the train of thought of Diego, and of
> all those who in my view are regressing to
> Smith). It has to do with the specific social
> relation of capital. Once you have in mind this
> argument, you do NOT have to *prove*
> exploitation in your sense, as the fact that
> surplus value refers to some notion of *surplus*
> labor. Because at this point this is true as a
> consequence of the founding argument relating
> the new 'value added' to living labor. If all
> the new value is living labour "objectualised"
> in the period, of course any surplus of the
> money receipt over the capital advanced CANNOT
> BUT BE surplus labor.

I agree that "proves" is too strong a word.  I should have said that
Marx's theory deduces surplus-value as the result of surplus labor
(i.e. exploitation) on the basis of the assumption of the labor theory
of value.  Arguments can be given for the plausibility of the labor
theory of value, including your argument, but this is not a logical

Instead, the validity of the labor theory of value and the surplus
labor theory of surplus-value should be evaluated on the basis of its
explanatory power (including the necessity of money, conflict over the
working day and over the intensity of labor, inherent technological
change, boom-bust cycles, etc.) (as Marx suggested in his famous letter
about the review of Capital in the Centralblatt).

>>>> I am not saying that other questions are not important.  I am just
>>>> saying that the production is the most important feature of capitalism,
>>>> and therefore the most important question in Marx's theory of
>>>> capitalism.
>>> I  strongly disagree with this formulation as well.
>>> Sorry, I misspoke.  What I meant to say is that “the production OF
>> SURPLUS-VALUE is the most important feature of capitalism” (consistent
>> with my preceding paragraphs), not just production per se.
> The production of surplus value is by definition
> also production of value, and value does *not*
> exist if the commodity is not sold. Probably you
> mean the production of surplus value as a
> *latent* magnitude.

I would say that Marx assumes in Volume 1 (and indeed throughout
Capital, as a general rule) that supply = demand, and therefore the
actual magnitude is the latent magnitude (as we have discussed many

>> I also emphasize that circulation is a necessary and important part of
>> capitalism.  Marx’s analytical framework is the circulation of money
>> capital, which begins in the sphere of circulation, with the advance of
>> money capital (M) to purchase means of production and labor-power.
>> This is one of the reasons that I argue that this initial money capital
>> in the sphere of circulation is taken as given in Marx’s theory.
> Yes, as a quantitative conceptual
> determinatiion, but not as the *specific*
> amount, because it depends on ruling exchange
> ratios, and  exchange ratios has yet to be fixed
> theoretically. So nothing is said about a fixity
> of the SAME magnitudes across volumes.

I argue (as you know) that the total surplus-value is indeed "fixed" in
Volume 1 and is then taken as given in Volume 3, which analyzes the
division of this predetermined total surplus-value into individual
parts.  I think there is tons of textual evidence to support this
interpretation, which I have presented in several papers.

Ajit says that "the whole world knows" that this is what Marx tried to do,
although he thinks that Marx failed in this attempt, because he "failed
to transform the inputs".

> Btw:
> - since, as you know, in vol. I clearly Marx
> very often refers to necessary labor as the
> labor required to produce means of subsistence
> (labour contained in those commodities), which
> is the same as the labour bought (commanded) by
> the money wage if exchange ratios are simple
> prices but *not* if exchange ratios diverge
> from those simple prices (e.g., prices of
> production)
> - and since vol III was written before vol I
> - and since Marx was again and again obsessively
> rewriting his economic work (even on fundamental
> categories)
> - and since the vol. III we have is constructed
> by Engels from the drafts by Marx
> it is clear (at least to me!) that:
> - there IS a logical problem to be dealt with(I
> am not saying it cannot be dealt within the
> Marxian labor theory of value)
> - it cannot be resolved using the authority of vol. III to re-read vol. I.
> I think we should start recognize that there
> does not exist, because it CANNOT exist, THE
> right interpretation about Marx, meaning the
> definitive and final.
> We are forced to go on in an uncertain terrain,
> assuming our responsibility, in developing *our*
> prolongation of an unfinished business.

I agree that there is no "right interpretation" of Marx's theory, and
that different interpretations are possible and reasonable, on the
basis of the sometimes ambiguous textual evidence.

However, I would argue that my "macro-monetary" interpretation at least
belongs to the set of reasonable interpretations of Marx's theory (and
I would acknowledge that your interpretation of NLT, which is different
from mine, also belongs to this set).

And I would argue that an advantage of my interpretation is that it
makes Marx's theory a logically consistent, without unsolved "logical
problems" that have to be dealt with.  Why not give Marx the "benefit
of the doubt", instead of insisting on an interpretation for which
there remains unsolved logical problems?

> riccardo
> PS: if I am wrong, why Marx in the several
> editions of Vol. I didn't put a very simple
> footnote saying the following: the exchange
> ratios of the elements of constant capital and
> variable capital are not
> supposed to be transformed? Instead, he wrote in
> the footnotes, more or less: the exchange ratios
> assumed here are simple prices, i. e. not
> immediately capitalist prices; this creates a
> problem, to determine prices of production,
> which I'll do in vol. III.

But Marx does say something to this effect in a very important footnote
at the end of Chapter 5 (a footnote to the famous "Hic Rhodus, hic
salta" challenge).

"[We should] formulate the problem of the formation of capital as
follows:  How can we account for the origin of capital on the
assumption that prices are regulated by the average price, i.e
ultimately by the value of commodities?
I say 'ultimately' because average prices do not directly coincide with
the values of commodities, as Smith, Ricardo, and others believe."

This is not entirely clear, but at least it suggests that average
prices are not equal to values, but this does not affect the theory of


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