[OPE-L:3040] Re: Simple Commodity Production

From: Fred B. Moseley (fmoseley@mtholyoke.edu)
Date: Sun May 07 2000 - 22:33:55 EDT

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David tells us in his post that his main concern is with a different
question from the question I have been asking and what most of the current
discussion has been about. David is not primarily concerned with Marx's
starting point in Capital, but rather what SHOULD BE the starting point of
a historical, Marxian theory? He presents two passages to support his
interpretation that Marx began with simple commodity production, but goes
on to say that, even if he is wrong about Marx, he would say that Marx was
wrong and that he is right about how economic theory should start and
should be constructed.

My main question in this discussion at the moment remains Marx's starting
point in Capital. So I will comment mainly on David's two passages. But
a quick response to David's other question: David, I agree that it is
necessary to distinguish between capitalist production and simple
commodity production. However, that does not mean that a theory of
capitalist production should start with simple commodity production.
Nor does this procedure "conflate capitalism with markets in general."
Nor does it imply that a future socialist society cannot have commodities.
As Marx noted in the passage quoted by Ajit, the commodity is common to
different modes of production. But Marx also tells us in many places that
the commodity in Chapter 1 nonetheless the most abstract or elementary
from of the capitalist mode of production.

Now, on to David's two passages:

> "The mode of production in which the product takes the form of a
> commodity, or is produced directly for exchange, is the most general
> and most embryonic form of bourgeois production. It therefore makes its
> appearance at an early date in history. . ." (Vol. I, p. 82
> [International, 1967]).

This passage has a somewhat different translation in the Penguin edition:

        "As the commodity-form is the most GENERAL and the most
        it makes it appearance at an early date ..." (p. 176)

And the continuation of that sentence is:

        "... though not in the same predominant and therefore
        characteristic manner as nowadays."

In other words, commodities existed prior to capitalism, but the
commodity-form Marx is analyzing in Chapter 1 is the "most general and
undeveloped FORM OF BOURGEOIS PRODUCTION." I think this passage supports
the "commodity-in-capitalism" interpretation of Chapter 1, not the simple
commodity production interpretation.

> And, perhaps most decisively, a methodological
> footnote to the text in which representation of skilled labor by a
> quantity of unskilled labor is posited: "The reader must note that we
> are not speaking here of the wages or value that the labourer gets for a
> given labour-time, but of the value of the commodity in which that
> labour-time is materialized. Wages is a category that, as yet, has no
> existence at the present stage of our investigation" (p. 44).

My reply here is similar to my reply to Ajit. Wages as a category has not
yet been introduced into Marx's theory. Wages are later defined in terms
of commodities and money. Therefore, commodities and money are first
defined independently of capital and wage-labor. But this does not mean
that capitalist production is not the object of Marx's analysis from the
very beginning, nor that the commodity Marx is analyzing in Chapter 1 is
not the most abstract element of this concrete historical totality of
capitalist production. The sequence of the categories depends on their
relation with the capitalist mode of production.

I look forward to further discussion.


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