[OPE-L:3030] Re: Re: Re: Re: re:starting points

From: Ajit Sinha (ajitsinha@lbsnaa.ernet.in)
Date: Sun May 07 2000 - 07:55:57 EDT

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I don't think a theoretical or interpretational problem can be solved by appeal
to consensus or head count. This is a poor way of settling an argument. Who are
these people whose consensus you are talking about? There are many good scholars
of Marx who are not debating these issues because they don't think it is going
anywhere. There are some people who get together and publish some mumbo-jumbo and
declare that they are a paradigm and that they have demonstrated every body else
to be wrong. Not many serious scholars have time to entertain all kinds of
gebrish that comes out in print--and all of us know how much of junk there is out
there in print. If they did so, no good work will ever get done. So what does
those meaningless proclamation prove? Nothing. So head count on ope-l is no way
to settle a theoretical problem. Now, as far as the question of the analysis of
commodity in CAPITAL is concerned, I think this is an obscurantist debate. The
problem is not that whether Marx's "commodity" in chapter one is a product of
capitalist production or not. The relevant theoretical point is that the concept
of "capital" and "wage labor" are not part of the arguments in chapter one--the
analysis is conducted independent of these concepts. Since you have given several
textual evidence on the concept of capital, let me refresh your memory on the
concept of commodity in chapter one by a long quote from early part of Chapter
five. This is very important because it is here for the first time that the
concepts of wage labor, and thus capital, are being developed. (By the way, Marx
did not think or know that "surplus-value" were produced and appropriated in
precapitalist systems. Surplus, of course, but not "surplus-value". He maintained
a theoretical distinction between the two). Cheers, ajit sinha

"Why this free worker confronts him in the sphere of circulation is a question
which does not interest the owner of money, for he finds the labour market in
existence as a particular branch of the commodity-market. And for the present it

The economic categories already discussed similarly bear a historical imprint.
Definite historical conditions are involved in the existence of the product as a
commodity. In order to become a commodity, the product must cease to be produced
as the immideate means of subsistence of the producer himself. Had we gone
further, and inquired under what cercumstances all, or even the majority of
products take the form of commodities, we should have found that this only
happens on the basis of one particular mode of production, the capitalist one.
COMMODITIES. The production and circulation of commodities can still take place
even though the great mass of the objects produced are intended for the immideate
requirements of their producers, and are not turned into commodities, so that the
process of social production is as yet by no means dominated in its length and
breadth by exchange-value. The appearance of products as commodities requires a
level of development of the division of labour within society such that the
separation of use-value from exchange-value, a separation which first begins with
barter, has already been completed. BUT SUCH A DEGREE OF DEVELOPMENT IS COMMON TO

If we go on to consider money, its existence implies that a definite stage in the
development of commodity exchange has been reached. ... Yet we know by experience
that a relatively feeble development of commodity circulation suffices for the
creation of all these forms. IT IS OTHER WISE WITH CAPITAL. THE HISTORICAL
AND COMMODITIES." (Marx, CAPITAL vol.1, pp.273-74, Vintage, emphasis mine.)

Fred B. Moseley wrote:

> 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.
> Comradely,
> Fred

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