In Section VI of Wages Price and Profit, Marx explains that prices approximate the true value of a commodity, but only over time as supply and demand average out. Having established this, he goes on to argue against the fallacy that profit is obtained by selling commodities above their value:
>If then, speaking broadly, and embracing somewhat longer periods, all descriptions of commodities sell at their respective values, it is nonsense to suppose that profit, not in individual cases, but that the constant and usual profits of different trades spring from surcharging the prices of commodities, or selling them at a price over and above their value. The absurdity of this notion becomes evident if it is generalized. What a man would constantly win as a seller he would as constantly lose as a purchaser. It would not do to say that there are men who are buyers without being sellers, or consumers without being producers. What these people pay to the producers, they must first get from them for nothing. If a man first takes your money and afterwards returns that money in buying your commodities, you will never enrich yourselves by selling your commodities too dear to that same man. This sort of transaction might diminish a loss, but would never help in realizing a profit.
Marx's argument against a fallacy rampant in the present day seems like it would be incredibly useful to learn, I cannot for the life of me parse what he is talking about. Thus, instead of ignoring this aside I come to /edu/'s help in making sense of it. To break it down:
<What a man would constantly win as a seller he would as constantly lose as a purchaser.
If every transaction in capitalism can be understood abstractly as buyers and sellers entering a marketplace - representing supply and demand by changes in stalls, shoppers, and salesmen, for instance - then each transaction with an arbitrary percentage of profit x applied would even out. This is what I assumed this sentence to mean at first. But even if this were the case, could each successive capitalist in the line from raw material to finished product not add a surplus onto the successively increasing true value of the increasingly complex commodity? Marx might say that the competition between capitalists (ignoring supply and demand, which self-cancel) would force this arbitrary "profit" to increasingly diminish to almost nothing if it were to ever exist at all, and force them to reduce the labor cost of their commodidies by increasing their productive forces. But I don't see a point where this bastardization of Marxist theory would reach a contradiction, resolving itself into the correct understanding. Where is the error here? Either way, it turns out the rest of the paragraph seems to have nothing to do with any of this.
<It would not do to say that there are men who are buyers without being sellers, or consumers without being producers.
It feels like it ought to be phrased the other way around - sellers without being buyers - when talking about a business making profit during sales, which must of course buy raw materials, land, and the MoP from another source. But I ignored this as a stylistic deviation, until the next sentence:
<What these people pay to the producers, they must first get from them for nothing.
"These people"? Who? The capitalists? The sellers of labor power? Who are the producers? Why is there a dual-transaction taking place here?
<If a man first takes your money and afterwards returns that money in buying your commodities, you will never enrich yourselves by selling your commodities too dear to that same man. This sort of transaction might diminish a loss, but would never help in realizing a profit.
This is the point where the absolute abstraction loses me entirely. Is the man "taking my money" another capitalist, who makes a profit off of me in selling me raw materials but loses his profit as he buys from me? Would this really even out, if you were to take it to its logical conclusion mathematically?
It seems this cursory, metaphorical refutation is much harder for me to grasp than a refutation in the form of a full analytical explanation of how the system actually works, which makes up the rest of the text. If someone could put it to me in plain terms I would greatly appreciate it, and I would hope other anons could use it to teach others as well.