[OPE-L:3188] Emendation in reply to Allin

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Sun May 14 2000 - 14:07:26 EDT

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Driving home on Friday night, I thought of a more transparent way to put
the crucial point #3 in my response to Allin. I had hoped to get this out
before his reply, but I see that this won't be realized. Nevertheless I'll
put this argument out and then take up Allin's comments.

Recall that I'm responding to this comment from Allin:

>I'm aware of Gil's criticisms of the argument in the early
>chapters of Capital, and I think Gil's argument has something
>going for it, but the implication of this statement goes beyond
>what I had previously understood him to be arguing.
>Can you clarify, Gil? It seems to me that the assumption of
>price-value correspondence /does/, prima facie, create a serious
>puzzle as to the origin of surplus value -- a puzzle which calls
>for Marx's solution in terms of the distinction between the
>value created by labour and the value of labour-power.
>[I'm talking about a world (ours) in which commodities are
>produced by capitalist enterprises that hire labour (-power) in
>order to produce commodities, not a parallel universe of

The first two points of my response were intended to show that price-value
disparities are *characteristic of*, and even *intrinsic to* a world in
which there are systematic wealth inequalities, but not to the degree
posited by Marx in Ch. 6 (according to which workers are entirely free of
owning alienable means of production). Point three, which I'm now
emending, considers how this judgment changes if we assume complete
inequality in alienable productive assets along class lines (so that
workers are "free in the double sense"), and, following Allin's
stipulation, capitalist exploitation based entirely on the circuit of
industrial capital (involving the purchase and subsumption of labor power
sold as a commodity).

3) Now suppose we have the extreme form of wealth inequality posited by
Marx in V. I Ch 6, such that workers are *entirely* free in the double
sense. In a market economy, these workers must gain access to the means of
production through some sort of exchange. As in the previous scenario,
this can be done via at least three distinct circuits of capital: usury
capital (as in the case of production loans to family farms), merchant
capital (as in the putting-out system), or Marx's canonical case of
industrial capital. At this point in the analysis, there's no reason
whatsoever to assume that the latter circuit will prevail, and at least one
powerful reason to believe it will not: the circuit of industrial capital
posits that capitalists oversee the labor process, and as Marx points out
in V. III, this takes hard work on the part of capitalists (either
overseeing the workers or overseeing the overseers). So long as the former
two circuits are the basis of capitalist exploitation, then targeted price
value disparities are *necessary* for capitalist appropriation of surplus
value, as in the scenario sketched in point 2 (and if this characterization
is untrue, Marx's deduction at the beginning of Ch. 6 is necessarily false,
with equally devastating implications for his argument---see footnote at
end of this post).

But assume, just for the sake of argument, that the circuit of industrial
capital is *universally* the vehicle for capitalist exploitation. Given
the arguments advanced by Marx as of the end of V. I Ch. 5, *there is no
other basis* for this stipulation (for example, no claim has been made yet
about the necessity of overseeing workers in order to extract maximal
levels of surplus value) than that one assumes it.

Now *if* we assume *up front* both a) that workers are completely
expropriated and b) that capitalist exploitation is *universally* based on
the purchase and subsumption of labor power sold as a commodity, then it
follows that price-value disparities are neither necessary to, nor even in
any meaningful sense characteristic of, the process of capitalist
exploitation (unlike in the scenario examined in point 2). Targeted
price-value disparities are no longer *necessary* for capitalist
exploitation, because it is now *logically* possible that capitalists
proceed as in Marx's canonical case, purchasing the commodity labor power
at its value and then extracting its use value to the point of acquiring
surplus value (notice this doesn't tell us what *enables* capitalists to do
that on a systematic basis). Nor are price-value disparities
*characteristic* of a system yielding surplus value, in any deep sense:
these disparities will of course arise from technologically drive
variations in organic composition of capital, but the latter are not
germane to the existence of capitalist exploitation--again, unlike the
scenario examined in point 2.

Well, if *assuming* universal expropriation of the working class and
universal exploitation based on the industrial circuit of capital implies
that price-value disparities are neither necessary for nor even
characteristic of capitalist exploitation, that vindicates Marx's argument
in Volume I, right?

Wrong. The combination of points 2 and 3 shows that Marx's argument in V.
I, part 2 is exactly backwards: the content of Chapter 6 must logically
and sequentially *precede* the content of Ch. 5, rather than follow it, in
order for the argument in Ch. 5 to be valid. Put another way, **the only
way for Marx's conclusion in Ch. 5, and his consequent Ch. 6 focus on the
purchase and subsumption of labor power as the basis for capitalist
exploitation, to be valid is if the latter is first **assumed**. His
Chapter 5 argument is thus *necessarily* either a non sequitur or a simple

Finally, let me clear up one detail. I've maintained that circuits of
usury and merchant capital capable of generating surplus value
*necessarily* involve targeted price-value disparities. I think the
argument for this is compelling, but I know from experience that not all
Marxists agree. Then for the sake of those who would disagree with my
characterization, if it is *not* the case that these alternative vehicles
of surplus value involve commodity price-value disparities, then it
*necessarily* follows that Marx's deduction at the beginning of V. I, Ch. 6
is invalid: it then *does not* follow from the stipulation of commodity
price-value correspondence that surplus value requires the purchase of
labor power **as a commodity** (and its subsumption under
capitalist-dominated production). Either way, of course, my conclusion is
the same: Marx's focus on the circuit of industrial capital in V. I Ch. 6
does not follow validly from the premises he establishes in Chapters 4 and


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