[OPE-L:2892] Re: starting point and capital

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Mon Apr 24 2000 - 14:18:06 EDT

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Contributing to an interesting exchange, Alfredo writes in part:

>I do not agree with this because - as I understand it - capital is a social
>relation which is defined by (and includes) the separation of the workers
>from the means of production, wage labour, and generalised commodity
>production for profit *simultaneously*. If I am right, wage labour is not
>*outside* of capital, or *external* to capital - it *is* capital, and capital
>cannot be conceived, posited or defined without wage labour.

This characterization of "capital" raises a couple of issues:

1) In Volume I of Capital, Marx does not mention separation of workers
from the means of production as an aspect of the *definition* of capital.
When he introduces the circuit of capital in Ch. 4, his only stipulation is
a system of commodity exchange in which the circuit M-C-M' systematically
arises. He *derives* the existence of a propertyless laboring class as
the basis for surplus value in Chs. 5 and 6, based on the additional (and
invalid) stipulation that the explanation of surplus value must proceed on
the basis of the "pure case" that all commodities exchange at their
respective values, and the unexplained premise that the existence of labor
power as a commodity *logically* implies a propertyless class (which it
doesn't). He does insist elsewhere (see, for example, the last paragraph
of V.I, Ch. 33) that expropriation of the working class is a *necessary*
condition for the capitalist *mode of production*--but that's a different
statement than Alfredo's.

2) As a counter-example to Alfredo's statement, in Vol. III. Marx
identifies usury capital extended to value producers (who own some of their
own means of production) as an instance of "capitalist exploitation without
its mode of production." (p. 732, Penguin ed.) He gives a parallel
characterization of merchant's capital extended to producers (as in the
putting-out system); see, e.g. V. III, pp. 452-453. These
characterizations are repeated consistently, starting with the Grundrisse,
then the Economic Manuscript of 1861-63, and the Resultate, in addition to
the material in Vol III.

So, in my reading of Marx, capital can indeed be "conceived, posited, or
defined" without wage labor. The latter, rather than an aspect of the
*definition* of capital, is a *consequence* of particular developments in
the social relations corresponding to the circuit of capital (developments
unspecified in Vol. I, but suggested in Vol. III and elsewhere) that
capitalists predominantly hire and subsume labor power *as a commodity*
rather than either a) lending value producers the wherewithal to finance
means of production, as in the circuit of usury capital, or b) purchasing
labor *services* as a commodity within labor processes run by producers
(i.e., no formal subsumption), as in the putting-out system.


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