Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mongiovi on Temporal Single System Marxism

The modern Marxist school contains numerous conflicting interpretations of Marx, and amongst them are the following:
(1) dual-system interpretations;

(2) the Temporal Single System Interpretation (TSSI) of Guglielmo Carchedi, Alan Freeman, and Andrew Kliman;

(3) physicalist interpretations,

(4) social paradigm/abstract labor approaches;

(5) the New Interpretation (NI) of Gerard Dumenil, A. Lipietz, and Duncan Foley, and

(6) Michael Heinrich’s “New German Reading of Marx.”
Internecine squabbles and open warfare between these Marxist subschools is not uncommon.

The Temporal Single System Interpretation (TSSI) of Marxism or non-equilibrium Marxism is a recent re-interpretation of Marx’s economic theories. Mongiovi (2002) provides an interesting Sraffian critique of the Temporal Single System Marxist system, although this can be supplemented with Laibman (2000), Veneziani (2004), Mohun and Veneziani (2009), and Moseley’s paper “Marx’s Concept of Prices of Production: Long-Run Center-of-Gravity Prices.”

Mongiovi (2002: 395) sees the re-interpretations of Marx by both Ladislaus Bortkiewicz (1868–1931) and Paul M. Sweezy (1910–2004) as being proto-Sraffian and having anticipated aspects of Sraffa’s own re-interpretation of Classical Political Economy.

By contrast, Temporal Single System Marxism, according to Mongiovi, is as much a critique of Sraffa as it is of Bortkiewicz and Sweezy.

In volume 3 of Capital Marx set out to prove three aggregate equalities:
(1) the sum of surplus value = sum of profits

(2) the sum of values = sum of prices, and

(3) the value rate of profit = the money rate of profit.
Ladislaus Bortkiewicz criticised Marx’s arguments that attempt to establish these identities, but the Temporal Single System Marxists argue that Bortkiewicz’s criticisms of Marx apply only to a Classical long-period equilibrium interpretation of Marx’s value theory, and that this long period interpretation is wrong and a misrepresentation of Marx’s views (Mongiovi 2002: 409).

Mongiovi charges the Temporal Single System Interpretation with the following flaws and errors:
(1) the concept of labour value, contrary to Marx, is reduced by the Temporal Single System Interpretation merely to price (Mongiovi 2002: 406, n. 20);

(2) the Temporal Single System Interpretation’s attempt to deny that Marx’s economics was in the tradition of long period Classical equilibrium theory is wrong (Mongiovi 2002: 402, 412).

(3) the Temporal Single System Interpretation attempts to defend the propositions that the (1) sum of profits equals the sum of surplus value and (2) the sum of prices equals the sum of values by reducing this to an idiosyncratic and empirically empty pure mathematical identity that is a sleight of hand (in other words, by an analytic mathematical propositions merely true by definition) (Mongiovi 2002: 405–406, 413);

(4) Temporal Single System Interpretation Marxists focus on random passages in Marx and take these passages out of context to prove their own idiosyncratic ideas (Mongiovi 2002: 409–411).
On (2), there seems to be good evidence that Marx really did conceive his economic theories firmly in the Classical long-run equilibrium position. For example, the evidence for how Marx regarded “average price,” “cost-price” or “price of production” as the long run Classical “natural price” is superbly presented in Fred Moseley’s paper “Marx’s Concept of Prices of Production: Long-Run Center-of-Gravity Prices,” which demonstrates how the Temporal Single System Interpretation badly misunderstands Marx’s concept of the “price of production.”

Also, very interesting is that the Temporal Single System Interpretation seems to reduce the concept of abstract labour time values merely to prices, which are just given and assumed to represent labour values.

All in all, none of this inspires much confidence in the Temporal Single System Interpretation of Marx.

Foley, Duncan K. 2008. “The Long-Period Method and Marx’s Theory of Value.”

Foley, Duncan K. 2011. “The Long-Period Method and Marx’s Theory of Value,” in Volker Caspari (ed.), The Evolution of Economic Theory: Essays in Honour of Bertram Schefold. Routledge, London and New York. 15–38.

Laibman, David. 2000. “Rhetoric and Substance in Value Theory: An Appraisal of the New Orthodox Marxism,” Science & Society 64.3: 310–332.

Mongiovi, G. 2002. “Vulgar Economy in Marxian Garb: A Critique of Temporal Single System Marxism,” Review of Radical Political Economics 34.4: 393–416.

Mohun, Simon and Veneziani, Roberto. 2009. “The Temporal Single-System Interpretation: Underdetermination and Inconsistency,” MPRA Paper No. 30452, 18 June 2009

Moseley, Fred. “Marx’s Concept of Prices of Production: Long-Run Center-of-Gravity Prices”

Veneziani, R. 2004. “The Temporal Single-System Interpretation of Marx’s Economics: A Critical Evaluation,” Metroeconomica 55: 96–114.


  1. LK, so are taking a side in the interpretive debate? Because all the scholars you cite would disagree with most of your posts on Marx. If the only point on which you'd agree is on the status of the TSSI, and I'm the one who's been taking that position, it suggests that this is more a passive aggressive jab at me than an honest inquiry.

    You should be aware that there is a literature spanning decades debating these points. You may want to investigate some of the numerous responses to the papers you've cited here, such as "The Truthiness of Veneziani’s Critique of Marx and the TSSI" (2007), "The Specter Haunting “Marxian Economics”" (2002) [contra mongiovi], "No Longer a Question of Truth?" [vs mohun and veneziani], et al.

    It'll save a lot of trouble if you get yourself up to date on it, rather than spend weeks retreading ground scholars have already covered.

    1. I am not taking any side: I am merely summarising Mongiovi's criticisms of the Temporal Single System Interpretation. From the evidence he gives, it looks quite convincing.

      I can accept Mongiovi's criticisms of the TSSI Marxists without being a Sraffian (as Mongiovi is).

    2. You're right. No need to hear a rebuttal. Case closed.

      Thanks for setting the record straight.