Value Theorists at War

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Feb 27 08:27:32 MST 2001

Scott wrote:
>Hi everybody--
>No doubt Phil is right in what he says below, and the pettiness of the way
>the spat among the "value theorists" is being waged does seem pretty evident
>from posting made by Louis.
>However, neither I, nor probably most of the people on this mail list,
>understand what the debate is all about. Perhaps it really is of some
>importance to understand Marxist value theory correctly, and to come to its
>defense. (Marx seemed to think the issue was worth some considerable thought
>and investigation, and spent a lot of time and effort defending his labor
>theory of value.)

This particular tempest in a teapot revolves around the "transformation
problem" which has to do with the relationship of Marx's theory of value to
prices. For most of the 20th century and now into the 21st, there have been
numerous challenges to Marxism on the basis of a supposed discrepancy
between value and prices, with Bohm-Bawerk the first and Sraffa the most
recent. While the challenges have usually come from a reformist direction,
there have been some perfectly decent thinkers who believe that such
problems do exist in Marx, including Paul Sweezy and the late Ronald Meek.

For obvious reasons, this debate will go on forever since it is practically
impossible to solve through purely empirical investigations although there
have been efforts to do so. My main gripe with "value theorists" is that
they largely ignore political factors in understanding Marxist economics.
Specifically, if you try to extract questions of crisis and breakdown
purely from the internal, math-driven analysis of m-c-m', then you will
miss the point entirely. You need to look at questions of war, imperialism,
geographical displacement in David Harvey's terms, ecological "second
contradictions" in James O'Connor's terms, etc. In other words, you need a
holistic analysis. The "value theorists" generally find these questions
uninteresting and seem involved in a scholastic enterprise utterly at odds
with Marx's life work.

Louis Proyect
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