[OPE-L:3027] Re: Re: Re: re:starting points

From: Fred B. Moseley (fmoseley@mtholyoke.edu)
Date: Sat May 06 2000 - 13:12:09 EDT

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I finally have the time for a belated reply to Nicky on Marx's starting
point in Capital, which will lead to in indirect reply to Gil.
I also hope to send an initial reply to Andrew's latest posts
later in the weekend.

On Mon, 24 Apr 2000, nicola taylor wrote:

> Thank you very much, Fred, for your interesting intervention on Banaji
> [OPE-L:2890]. What follows is a partial reply:
> >
> >1. The first starting-point is the COMMODITY, understood as the most
> >abstract form of appearance of CAPITAL. Banaji argues very persuasively
> >that Marx's commodity in Chapter 1 is definitely NOT a general commodity
> >that could also apply to non-capitalist modes of production. Please see
> >the subsection "Capital as Presupposition of the Commodity",
> >pp. 28-30. (Nicky, please take note). Chris Arthur has also argued a
> >similar point in several papers.
> Just in case I've been unclear in previous posts, I fully agree that Marx's
> commodity can not be usefully applied to non-capitalist modes of
> production. Other people on this list disagree:- does that mean that
> Marx's exposition (his analysis of the commodity) in the first chapter of
> Capital is open to different interpretations? If so, is it true that
> Marx's analysis of the commodity is not adequate to his subject matter -
> which I take to be a theory of capitalist value? I'm not sure. But,
> reading Banaji drew my attention to the possibility that Marx may have had
> a Hegelian use of the 'substance' concept - which I have previously assumed
> to be a Ricardian/Neutonian lapse.

Nicky, I am glad that we agree on this important point that Marcx's
commodity in Chapter 1 is a product of CAPITALIST PRODUCTION.
If others disagree, I don't think that this means that Marx's concept of
the commodity is "not adequate to its subject matter" or "ambiguous".
I think it just means that others do not understand Marx's logical method
and his starting-point in particular. Marx's starting point is one
abstract element of a concrete, historically-specific totality: capitalist
production. Maybe Marx is not clear enough in explaining this starting
point, but there are many more passages like the ones that Banaji
quotes. I think the textual evidence on this point is very strong.

There appears to be a growing consensus on this important point.
Alfredo has also said that he agrees with this interpretation; Andy and
Chris also. I wonder who are the remaining dissenters on this point?

I think this emerging interpretation is a significant step forward in
Marxian scholarship. The old interpretation of Part 1 presented by Engels
and Sweezy and Meek and Mandel is now understood to be mistaken. Marx did
not start with simple commodity production. Marx started with the most
abstract element of capitalist production.

If this interpretation is accepted (as the textual evidence suggests that
it should be), then it clears up many puzzles, including Gil's critique of
"Marx's failure" (once again!) to explain the necessity of wage-labor in
Part 2 of Volume 1. Gil's argument assumes that Marx's concept of capital
in Part 2 is a GENERAL AHISTORICAL CONCEPT of capital that could apply to
non-capitalist modes of production. Gil's critique is that Marx's
argument fails to prove that capital (i.e. surplus-value) is possible only
in capitalism, i.e. only with wage-labor.

However, if Marx assumes capitalism from the very beginning (as there
appears to be a growing consensus), then Gil's interpretation cannot be
correct. Just like the commodity in Part 1 is not a general ahistorical
concept, so also capital in Part 2 is not a general ahistorical concept,
that could also apply to non-capitalist modes of production. The concept
of capital in Part 2 is CAPITAL IN CAPITALISM, just like the commodity in
Part 1 is the commodity in capitalism. Marx did not suddenly broaden the
object of his analysis in Part 2 from specifically capitalist production
to include non-capitalist modes of production. The object of Marx's
analysis remains capitalist production throughout. Capital in Part 2 is a
more concrete element (although still very abstract!) of the same totality
of capitalist production with which Marx began in Part 1.

Indeed, Marx tells us explicitly in Chapter 5, not only that the capital
he is analyzing is capital in capitalism, but even more precisely that the
capital he is analyzing the PRIMARY FORM of capital in capitalism,
i.e. capital invested in capitalist production. Marx stated explicitly
that merchants' capital and usurers' capital are ABSTRACTED from at this
stage of the analysis.

"... in our analysis of the PRIMARY FORM of capital, the form in which it
determines the economic organization of modern society, WE HAVE LEFT
ENTIRELY OUT OF CONSIDERATION its well-known and so to speak antediluvian
form, merchants' capital and usurers capital." (C.I. 266; emphasis added)

"In the course of our investigation, we shall find that both merchants's
capital and interest-bearing capital are DERIVATIVE FORMS, and at the same
time it will become clear why, historically, these two forms appear before
the modern PRIMARY FORM of capital." (C.I. 267; emphasis added)

When Marx later analyzed commercial capital and interest-bearing capital
in Parts 4 and 5 of Volume 3 of Capital, he analyzed these forms of
capital as "DERIVATIVE FORMS", i.e. forms of capital DERIVED FROM the
primary form of productive or industrial capital, not commercial capital
and interest-bearing capital as general ahistorical concepts that could
also be related to non-capitalist modes of production.

This point is made clear in an important letter in 1868 from Marx to
Engels, in which Marx outlined for Engels the contents of Volume 3.
When Marx got to Part 4 of his outline, he said:

"Previously we have dealt only with PRODUCTIVE CAPITAL. Now modifications
occur caused by MERCHANT CAPITAL." (Selected Correspondence,
p. 194; emphasis in the original)

In other words, the capital Marx is analyzing in all three volumes of
Capital, up until Part 4 of Volume 3, is productive capital in capitalism.
Which means that the capital Marx is analyzing in Part 2 of Volume 1 is
not a general ahistorical concept, that could also apply to non-capitalist
modes of production. Rather, the capital Marx is analyzing in Part 2 is
productive capital in capitalism, just like the commodity Marx analyzes in
Part 1 is the product of capitalist production.

So, Gil is criticizing Marx for failing to do something that he did not
attempt: to prove that capital and surplus-value are possible only as a
result of wage-labor in capitalism. Capitalist production is assumed from
the very beginning and the object of Marx's analysis is to explain how
surplus-value is produced in capitalism, not to argue that surplus-value
can only be produced in capitalism. That would be a ridiculous argument,
that Marx knew was untrue. Marx was certainly aware of non-capitalist
modes of appropriating surplus-value (as Gil points out). But these
non-capitalist modes of production are irrelevant to Marx's theory of how
surplus-value is produced IN CAPITALISM.

I look forward to further discussion.


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