[OPE-L:2842] Re: relabeling commodities, value, and socialism

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Fri Apr 14 2000 - 06:29:32 EDT

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Re Mike W's [OPE-L:2835]:

Thanks for explaining what I wanted to say with much greater clarity than
I actually did say.

Perhaps a related question is whether we should "relabel" capitalism such
that all of its essential characteristics (and their inter-connectedness)
must be in place. If that were the case, then to speak of e.g. "merchant
capitalism" or "enslaving capitalists" would be misleading.

Of course, capitalism was, in fact, *historically* constituted. Yet, the
events and forces associated with comprehending the process that brought
this mode of production into reality can not themselves form the concepts
upon which capitalism is defined. Thus, the "primitive accumulation of
capitalism", the enclosure movement, plunder and pillage, etc. had great
meaning for comprehending how the *preconditions* associated with what
later became the capitalist mode of production were brought into being.
Perhaps what might be confusing to some is the status of references to
historical sources and statistics to Marx's presentation in _Capital_.
A couple of interesting references on this point:

1. In his 2/10/66 letter to Engels, Marx tells FE that "the historical
part on the 'work day', which lay outside the original plan" was included
because of his poor health and his "brain was too weak" for dealing at the
time with the "purely theoretical part".

2. In his 4/30/67 letter to Sigfrid Meyer, KM wrote that: "*Volume I*
contains the *"Production Process of Capital"*. Next to the general
scientific development, I present in detail, from the hitherto unused
*official* sources, the conditions of the English - agricultural and
industrial - proletariat *during the last twenty years*. You understand as
a matter of course that all this serves me only as a *argumentum ad
hominem* [an evasive argument]" (emphasis in original).

Marx, it seems, frequently made *argumentum ad hominem* alongside the
basic theoretical presentation.

In solidarity, Jerry

> A key point in this debate about the domain of Commodity is whether the
> 'generalisation' of objects produced with a view to sale leaves those
> objects essentially unchanged (in which case Commodity can usefully
> categorise such objects both before and after generalisation) or not (in
> which case we need separate concepts).
> Since there seems to be some common ground that capitalism is (at least)
> generalised commodity production, and, perhaps somewhat less but still some
> common ground that Capitalism is a (dynamic) system (the conditions of
> reproduction of which are of scientific interest), it seems not too great a
> further step to suggest that the key categories of that system gain their
> meaning, at least in important part, from their interconnections within it.
> In which case Commodity under capitalism is a categorically different thing
> than 'object produced for exchange' in earlier epochs. (Whether or not these
> epochs are themselves systemic to the same degree as developed capitalism is
> a moot point; but they are certainly something other than a Capitalist
> system.)
> More intuitively, it seems meaningful to say that the value of BMW 5 series
> is some 70K times the value of a packet of peanuts, only because they are
> both commodities entering into a generalised (capitalist) commodity
> producing system (with all that entails). To my mind, it does not seem
> meaningful to say that an ancient Egyptian pyramid was worth 1,000M pairs of
> sandals (I'm making some of this up) made in an Egyptian village,
> notwithstanding the tallying and accounting by the Pyramid builders, or the
> fact that the sandals may have been sold to passing traders. The reason is
> that in the latter case these objects do not enter anything approximating to
> a universal system of commensuration, in the way that cars and snack food do
> today.

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