[OPE-L:2819] Re: relabeling comodities and money

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Tue Apr 11 2000 - 16:25:27 EDT

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Re Patrick's [OPE-L:2816]:

> A commodity is thing that has both use-value and exchange value. However,
> it is a thing that is produced primarily (exclusively?) for it's exchange
> value. It is an item that is produced for the market, that is, it is
> produced for sell -- not for use. Now, since it is produced for sell (and
> not for use) the commodity owner is necessarily concerned with costs.
> Further, the sole purpose of the commodity seller is to accumulate wealth.
> (I am not here making the neoclassical argument regarding profit

The sole purpose of capitalists, under the assumption that they are
"capital personified", is to accumulate *capital*, not wealth.

This, as has been noted by others, does not fit in well with the behavior
of plantation owners.
> Marx's standard assumption that workers are "free" to offer to sell their
> laboring capacity to any available commodity producer is a device for
> demonstrating the hypocrisy of so-called free markets. He wants to that
> exploitation exists even under capitalism's most idealized circumstances.

We disagree strongly on this point. This is not merely a "standard
assumption", it is what in large part *defines* the working class under
capitalism. It is true that Marx uses the term "free labor" in several
senses. E.g. wage-earners are "freed" from the ownership and control of
the means of production; they are "free" to seek employment by capital just
as they are "free" to starve to death if they decide not to exercise their
"freedom" or if they lose their job, etc. In developing the
characteristics of wage-labour, I think he puts forward two different but
complimentary ideas -- i.e. that wage earners are both "wage slaves" *and*
"free labor".

> Hence, it is a strange logic that asserts that if the most idealized (and I
> might add, apologetic) expression of textbook capitalism does not exist,
> then an economic is not capitalist.

I'm not sure what the above means ("an economic is not capitalist"?).
> Actually existing capitalist economies are capable of a multitude of
> capital and labor market institutions. During 1939-1945 Germany, Japan, US,
> UK, Spain, and Italy were all capitalist states. Yet, they differed from
> each other in the specific set of capital and labor market institutions.
> Moreover, each of these states has different institutional frameworks today
> than they had in 50 years ago. Many have argued that a fascist state is
> simply the ultimate rationalization of a capitalist economy, especially
> during periods of deeply crisis. Is there perfect mobility of labor in a
> fascist state? Is there "freedom" in a fascist state? Is there 100%
> competitive privately owned commodity production in a fascist state?

Yes, there were different capital and labor market institutions in each of
these countries. Yes, those institutional frameworks have changed
historically. What hasn't changed, though, has been that in all cases
their economies relied on labor in the form of *wage-labor*.

"Perfect mobility of labor" may or may not exist in different countries.
This is not the crucial question. What is crucial is the *form* that
labor takes that is peculiar to the capitalist mode of production.

> Is capitalism consistent with capitalism. Yes, it is.

I can hardly disagree with such a tautology.

> By the way, if slavery was so much more inefficient than the textbook
> capitalism then why did Florida ever become a slave state?

I never argued that point.
> What's at stake in this discussion?

My answer: the historical specificity of the form of labor and class
relations in the capitalist mode of production and the relation
of that to the categories of commodities and value.

> An inability to understand the nature
> of slave-capitalism leads inexorbaly to an incorrect understanding the
> nature and causes of racial and ethnic conflicts in today's capitalist
> economies.

If that is the case, then why do I *agree* with the remainder of your

> Neither American nor European workers (or for that matter,
> managers, professionals, and owners of capital) in today's capitalist
> economies maybe accurately understood solely in terms of their class
> identity. Race matters, precisely because today's Western capitalist
> economies are racialized-capitalist states.

In solidarity, Jerry

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