Value Theorists at War

ScottH9999 at ScottH9999 at
Tue Feb 27 12:41:53 MST 2001

Louis, and everyone--

I am aware of the "transformation problem", and I SUSPECT too that (in the
words of a couple others who responded) it is ultimately a "non-issue", and
in part for the reasons you suggest below. However, what I am trying to bring
up is the more general issue of how we Marxists should respond to criticisms
of Marxism, or to problems people raise with Marxist theory, and the like.

In general I don't think we should respond by simply dismissing the
criticisms and problems, or with put-downs and snide derision. I'm not saying
that this sort of response is NEVER appropriate! I generally respond this way
myself when people talk sympathetically about astrology, say. But even in
these cases, I always feel later like I screwed up in doing so--since people
are seldom helped to correct their mistakes and erroneous outlooks this way.
Put-downs and derision are enjoyed by those who already agree with us, but no
one's understanding is improved--not even that of our sympathizers, and not
even our own!. In fact, responding this way usually represents a missed
opportunity for further enlightenment all around.

There are in fact a number of serious theoretical issues still outstanding in
relation to the labor theory of value. The transformation problem is one of
them, in my opinion. The reason I say this is that I personally have not yet
seen a careful, thorough, rational explanation for precisely WHY it is a
"non-issue". Just saying, over and over (as some people in this group seem
inclined to do) that it is a non-issue, without carefully and convincingly
saying WHY this is true, makes me suspect just the opposite--that it may be
more of an issue than people are presently prepared to deal with! Even your
comments below, while useful, hardly seem to settle the matter to my mind.

In general, I think we should take proposed difficulties with Marxist theory
quite seriously. I think we should study such suggested difficulties and
respond carefully to them, in order to: 1) correct and further develop
Marxism, where appropriate, 2) improve our own understanding of the theory,
3) combat unjustified attacks against Marxism by its opponents, and 4)
correct the mistaken notions of others who might possibly be won over to the
side of the people.

If the answer to a "problem" has already been worked out, we should give it
and/or refer people to documents which go into the matter in detail. If the
answer has not yet been worked out satisfactorily, then it remains an
important item for Marxist theorists to work on.

--Scott Harrison

In a message dated 2/27/01 7:38:50 AM Pacific Standard Time, lnp3 at

> Scott wrote:
>  >Hi everybody--
>  >
>  >No doubt Phil is right in what he says below, and the pettiness of the
>  >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,
>  really
>  >understand what the debate is all about. Perhaps it really is of some
>  >importance to understand Marxist value theory correctly, and to come to
>  >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
>  Marxism mailing list:

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