RE: [OPE] Value form theory 101

From: Anders Ekeland <>
Date: Fri Dec 12 2008 - 02:10:27 EST

Hi Jerry,

In these debates we have separate three questions:

1) What is a reasonable interpretation of a text?
What is the message, the internal consistency of
the text -in this case Marx' texts.

2) This is different from the question if the
text describes reality in an appropriate way - if it is the "truth".

3) Given 1) and 2) - what is a theoretical and
political position that can be labelled Marxist -
in the spirit of Marx' scientific-political
project which claims that the movement for human
liberation is not contradicted by scientific results, the "truth".

I agree that there has been a strong tradition on
the left to confuse these, but fortunately that
is becoming a thing of the past.

I interpreted Jurriaan saying that a certain
position has very little *textual* support. We
cannot be so liberal that "anything goes" when it
comes to interpretation of a text, but certainly
we must be more broad-minded than some of us were in the 70-ties.

I think Jurriaan gave a very good resumé of Marx'
position, which I agree with, but I am maybe
closer to a "value-form" position. Long time
since read VFT - but I have a feeling that
Juriaan maybe makes them more one-sided than they are/were.

To illustrate my point with an another example:
IMO you cannot at the same time have a
distinction between abstract labour and "simple
and complex labour" - abstract labour is the
important concept. Regarding the Marxian texts -
Marx is very fragmentary/inconsistent on this
point - and the problem of "skill coefficients" is still an unresolved one.

But there is more textual support for a
abstract/simple/complex interpretation in Marx
than my point of view, but I argue that mine is
closer to the truth and in line with the spirit
of the Marxian project. I see it as a position
("interpretation") that I think Marx could have
had - in fact he writes all his major works with
this "simplifying" assumption!.

Consequently I argue that to get out to the
deadlock regarding "skill coefficients" I think
my position should be the modern, socialist,
"Marxian" position. Makoto Itoh put forward this
position in the late eighties, it is not only me
that holds it. Also Farjoun and Machover ends
there - but again more as a simplyfing assumption.

On the question of the ahistoric nature of
abstract labour I think Juriaan conforms to

1) Very solid basis in Marx writings
2) Empirically correct

and consequently: 3) Should be the modern Marxist position

That one can argue against this is obvious, but
you have to be clear on your position regarding
1) and 2) - that gives us a better discussion.

What is important is of course not to be Marxist,
in a certain sense that is only a label, but to
have a consistent theory, discarding hypothesis
that have not stood the test of time and
integrating new ones which do not contradict the "hard core" of the paradigm.

At 14:30 11.12.2008, GERALD LEVY wrote:
>Hi Jurriaan, Paul C, Dave Z, and Anders:
>While I share your admiration for many of Jurriaan's contributions,
>this was not one of his "excellent" ones, imo.
>TO BE SURE, it is a VERY MARXIST presentation - both in content and form.
>The Marxist form should be self-evident, but I'll spell it out anyway.
>For instance, there is this:
> >> whereas I think you are perfectly
> > > entitled to [...] value-form theory, this is not at all what Marx
> > > himself argues, and I can prove that very easily with chapter & verse.
>What could be a more MARXIST form of statement than that?
>This MIGHT have been OK IF we were talking about interpretations of
>Marx. We weren't. Indeed, the post which Jurriaan responded to only
>- quite deliberately - mentioned Marx once and that was to say that
>whether VFT is "grounded in Marx ... misses the point. It is grounded in
>the necessary character of capitalism".
>This diversion of theoretical questions into interpretive ones - and then the
>familiar pattern of trading back and forth
>quotes by Marx ("dueling Marx")- is,
>sadly, what we have all come to expect from MARXIST discourse.
>How ironic - and hollow, it now seems to me - are JB's protestations of
>not being a Marxist. That, too, seems to be a VERY Marxist trend:
>Marxists denying that they are Marxists!
>Oh, but here's the real kicker:
> > Why I refer to "bourgeois Marxism" is not primarily because of some
> > pejorative intent, but for the scientific reason that in such
> > theories, value is formed, created and constituted by exchange
> > transactions.
>Well, that is a gem! It is just SO typical of the form that Marxists have
>historically communicated with each other. Jurriaan not merely dismisses
>VFT - based on HIS reading of what MARX'S perspective was - and
>labels it as "bourgeois Marxism" but ADDS that it is for an allegedly
>"scientific reason". Ha-ha. Resorting to calling other Marxian
>perspectives "bourgeois" is the "last refuge" of Fundamentalist Marxism
>and recalls to memory what was - imo - by far Paul Mattick's worst
>As for the *content*, it is no wonder Paul C and Dave Z liked Jurriaan's
>post since it re-stated their shared trans-historical conceptions on
>value et al. t is not clear to me whether Anders - and Jurriaan, for that
>matter - share Paul's very consistently trans-historical perspective
>on labor (see his reply to Terry). In any event, their commentaries make
>it clear that one of the biggest divides among Marxian value theorists
>is over the question of whether categories such as surplus value and
>abstract labor are trans-historical in the sense that they apply towards
>pre-capitalist modes of production (and, by inference, towards post-
>capitalist modes of production) OR whether they are specific social forms
>associated with capitalism.
>I don't know, Terry, how this analytical divide can be bridged since it
>revolves around essential and foundational questions.
>Jurriaan is quite right, though, to point towards the question of exchange
>as an essential difference in terms of the varying conceptions of the
>two 'schools' of thought. One perspective, it seems to me, is grounded
>in what is taken to be an essential postulate of historical materialism -
>namely, the (trans-historical) centrality of production. This 'productivist'
>emphasis is precisely what VFT could be seen, in
>part, as a reaction against -
>as I noted in a previous post. To the extent that we're talking about
>capitalism - rather than merely Marx or pre-capitalist (and all) modes of
>production - what is important, imo, is to understand the CENTRALITY
>OF EXCHANGE to the nature of CAPITALIST PRODUCTION. There can
>be no capitalism without exchange, money, and markets. Capitalist
>production and circulation are necessarily wedded to each other. We don't
>need to refer to Marx to grasp that fact. The essential social relations of
>production of capitalism REQUIRE exchange. Capitalist production itself
>CAN NOT EVEN COMMENCE without exchange. Let us not forget the
>importance of the purchase and sale of labor power! Without a market
>for labor power and wage-labor, there will be NO capitalist production. The
>market thus forms both a presupposition for
>capitalist production and a necessary
>requirement for the reproduction of capital. To fail to grasp this point
>is to fail to grasp the essential character of capitalism and the necessary
>class relations associated with that mode of production.
>I realize that some VF theorists - like Chris A and Tony S - have written a
>lot on their interpretations of Marx. But, let
>us not forget that the IMPORTANT
>analytical question is our conception of CAPITALISM. How we conceive of
>capitalism also has huge implications for our conceptions of post-capitalism:
>the categories that are viewed by some as being trans-historical will be
>retained in post-capitalist societies whereas
>the categories that are viewed by
>others as specific to capitalism will be transcended and surpassed.
>In solidarity, Jerry
>ope mailing list

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Received on Fri Dec 12 02:12:23 2008

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