[OPE-L:3382] Re: Gil's necessary conditions

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Tue May 30 2000 - 19:30:29 EDT

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Hello, Mike, it's a pleasure to hear from you. I wondered if you were
monitoring this return to old stomping grounds.

> Gil really seems to gone off the deep end into neoclassical theory in 3369.

A word about that. I use neoclassical terms and depictions because that
theory has provided the richest and most precise conceptual basis for
talking about exchange conditions, and the latter are necessarily central
to this discussion. Doing so introduces some questions about translation
from one theoretical language into the other, but that' s not enough to
reject argument in neoclassical terms categorically. To the contrary, Marx
embraces several of the key presuppositions of neoclassical competitive
theory, including self-interested individual behavior (see the last page of
V. I Ch. 6, e.g.) and "free entry and exit" (see, for example, the
Resultate, p. 1014 in the Penguin ed. of V. I). Perhaps more to the point,
nothing in Marx's discussion through Chapter 5 *rules out* the economic
conditions introduced by the neoclassical framework. So if the latter
establishes a counter-example to a categorical claim made by Marx, this is
a legitimate basis--at least in terms of the theoretical grounds identified
by Marx--for rejecting the categorical claim as invalid.

Mike continues by responding to the following passages from me:
>>A) Marx identifies two necessary conditions for the capitalist mode of
>>production: first that workers are completely expropriated:
>>"...the capitalist mode of production and accumulation, and therefore
>>capitalist private property as well, have for their fundamental
>>condition...the expropriation of the worker." (p940, Penguin ed);
>>and second, that excessive capital accumulation by those who have the
>>wealth doesn't drive the profit rate to zero. Obviously Marx argues this
>>won't happen--he gives two mutually reinforcing arguments why it won't in
>>Ch. 25--but at least he recognizes the logical possibility of excessive
>>B) Granting both of these conditions is tantamount to ensuring that capital
>>is *absolutely* scarce in any given production period;.....

to which Mike says

> Certainly we can all agree on the first condition that Gil identifies.
>However, the second condition for capitalist productive relations (which,
>rather than the capitalist mode of production--- the "specifically
>capitalist mode of production", at least--- are the premise for the
>beginning of CAPITAL)

I've argued in a separate post that it is not necessary or even obvious to
interpret Marx's starting point in this way. At the very least, doing so
makes Marx's argument, concluding at the beginning of Ch. 6, necessarily
circular, since this argument ends at its beginning, by the above

>is that capital has "seized possession of production"
>(cf GRUNDRISSE,853,859); i.e., the option for now-propertyless producers of
>renting means of production from their owners is closed--

The "i.e." claim does not follow, and gives an example of what I mean by
the fundamentally misleading aspect of Marx's chapter 5 and 6 arguments.
*It does not follow* that expropriation of producers "closes the option" of
renting the means of production, for something like the same reason that it
doesn't close the option of renting living quarters. One needs an
additional, essentially different argument than anything Marx gives in Ch.
5 or 6 to establish this result. That's my point.

> leaving only the
>option of selling labour-power, working under the direction, etc of capital
>and having no property rights in the product of labour-- thus, capitalist
>productive relations.

This also does not follow. Besides renting the means of production,
workers could borrow the money to finance the means of production (just
like workers borrow money to buy houses) or act as independent contractors
to capitalists, corresponding to the putting out system, but absent
"working under the direction, etc of capital". As above, establishing
these results requires an essentially *different* sort of argument than the
ones given by Marx in Chapters 5 and 6, and is thus part of the point of my
critique of these chapters.

> Marx separates these two conditions clearly in Vol. I, Ch. 28 when he says:
>"It is not enough [A--ML] that the conditions of labour are concentrated at
>one pole of society in the shape of capital, while at the other pole are
>grouped masses of men who have nothing to sell but their labour-power. Nor
>is it enough [B--ML] that they are compelled to sell themselves
>voluntarily" (Vintage,899).

We've argued over this passage before, Mike. It's not particularly helpful
for the specific uses that either of us have wanted to put it to. With
regard to your current reading, it rather supports *my* interpretation of
the significance of these class conditions, with the sole (and entirely
consistent with my account) exception that the role of the state is made

First: just to confirm this, the passage is entirely consistent with the
first of two *necessary conditions* for the capitalist mode of production
that I attribute to Marx--namely, that the working class be expropriated
(so that only capitalists have the productive wealth). "Not enough" is
still consistent with "necessary".

But why is this condition "not enough"? Because of the *second* necessary
condition I attribute to Marx, namely that the rate of capitalist
accumulation must not be excessive, must not be at a level such that
surplus value is driven to zero. Now, the *conclusion* of the passage you
cite makes *exactly* this point, with the single (and from my standpoint,
quite harmonious) qualification that what constitutes "excessive capital
accumulation" has to be defined in light of the role of the state in
mediating class relations (fine with me!):

"The rising boureoisie needs the power of the state, and uses it to
'regulate' wages, i.e. to force them into the limits suitable for making a
profit, to lengthen the working day, and to keep the worker himself at his
normal level of dependence." (pp 899-900).

Let me grant this in its entirety. Doing so merely qualifies the sense of
the second necessary condition I've attributed to Marx. But notice that
introducing the state in this fashion also allows "the reproduction of
capitalism as an organic system", unless there's a quibble about the
meaning of "organic."

Mike continues:

> (It is appropriate in passing to ask--- what are both the rupture in
>property rights and the seizure of possession of production by capital "not
>enough" *for*? The answer is the reproduction of capitalism as an organic
>system. Marx's 3rd condition is that the development of the capitalist mode
>of production has produced "a working class which by education, tradition
>and habit looks upon the requirements of that mode of production as
>self-evident natural laws. The organization of capitalist production, once
>it is fully developed, breaks down all resistance" (899). Ie., the premise
>for capitalism as an organic system is that it produces its premises in the
>necessary bourgeois economic form--- especially the working class; this
>last, of course, is a premise put into question whenever workers struggle
>for their own goals, as Marx well knew.)

Again, this supports my argument rather than counters it. I can't
emphasize this point enough: I'm not arguing, I have never argued, that
capitalist production is not relevant to the explanation of surplus
value,--of course it is! -- I'm saying that the value-theoretic grounds
Marx advances in chapters 5 and 6 for focusing on capitalist production as
the basis of surplus value are invalid. The passage you cite is neither A)
in chapters 5 or 6 nor B) dependent on Marx's value-theoretic categories,
specifically the condition of price-value equivalence. To the contrary,
it's an instance of what I have called Marx's "historical-contingent"
analysis of the role of capitalist production in capitalist exploitation.
Check either of my Science & Society articles for confirmation of this, if
necessary (although I don't specifically use the passage from p. 899, I
certainly could, and will in my concluding paper on this topic, which I'm
preparing for as I write--literally).

> So, what is Gil doing when he keeps insisting that surplus value does not
>require production under capitalist relations of production?

Again, I must emphasize, this is a fundamental misrepresentation of my
argument, the primary point of which is to show that *Marx's* arguments in
*Chapters 5 and 6* do not suffice to establish the necessity of capitalist
relations of production for capitalist exploitation. The second half of my
argument, dealing with Marx's "historical-strategic" account of capitalist
exploitation, deals with the sense in which capitalist production is needed
for capitalist exploitation. We haven't gotten to that half of the
argument in the present discussion, so this objection, Mike, is necessarily

Now, to anticipate, it is true that in that half of the argument I suggest
that capitalist production is not necessary for the *existence* of surplus
value, but rather for its *maximal realization* under given distributional
and technological conditions. I also suggest that no valid argument in
Marx establishes otherwise, and I'd say the passage you cite is no
exception. First, even if I accept the passage in its entirety, it doesn't
say that surplus value would never or even rarely exist in the absence of a
suitably tamed working class (and suitably pro-capitalist state
intervention); it says that wage rates or the length of the working day may
sometimes go out of bounds in the absence of state intervention. Your own
reading of this is the rather qualified conclusion that capitalism couldn't
be "reproduced as an organic system", not that capitalism wouldn't persist.

But second, there are strong reasons, even in Marx, even in V. I., not to
take this passage at face value. In Ch. 25, Marx gives two reasons for why
the normal operation of capitalist accumulation would keep wages within the
correct limits, and (logically speaking) the length of the working day as
well--faced with an industrial reserve army, employed workers can't get too
picky about how much they're paid or how long they work. The first of
these reasons, at least (to the effect that the self-regulating impact of
the rate of accumulation on the rate of profit will stop the latter from
declining toward zero) depends in no way on the fact of capitalist control
of production, and it also doesn't depend on state-determined levels of the
wage or the working day.

>For one, he is
>underlining (quite correctly, in my view) the fact that Marx does not
>adequately specify condition B (ML) at the outset of chapter 6, and thus it
>appears that the rupture in property rights in itself is a sufficient
>condition (as opposed to being merely a necessary condition) for capitalist
>production. Had Marx specified this condition B-- just as he did A, then
>much of Gil's protest would have been precluded.

See qualifications above: of course it would have been precluded, because
on your hypothesis Marx would then have been doing what I'm arguing he
should have been doing in the first place. But you left out one important
piece--with or without condition B-ML, it remains the case that the
explanation of surplus value depends in no coherent way on the condition of
price-value equivalence, and furthermore that the latter is essentially
misleading as to the significance of capitalist production for capitalist
exploitation--which in effect, the passage you cite makes clear.

> The other thing Gil is doing is failing to distinguish between the "being"
>of capital and the "becoming" (anti-Hegelians cover your eyes!).

Not really-that's part of the "historically-contingent" argument that I'm
arguing *for*. In my Chapter 5 critique, I'm just using these historical
cases as logical counter-examples for Marx's categorical claims leading to
the conclusion with which he ends the chapter. He does not rule out of
bounds such historical counter-examples, unless you assume like Fred that
universal capitalist production is to be understood as a premise of Marx's
ch. 5 argument--but in that case, his focus on the purchase and subsumption
of labor power at the beginning of chapter 6 is necessarily circular.

> Marx
>distinguishes very clearly between "historic presuppositions" (like
>accumulating capital by means of usury and merchant activity) which are
>part of the "becoming" of capital and those conditions and premises which
>are the product of "real capital" (Grundrisse, 459-60), ie. when capitalist
>production as such exists--- and it is the latter which is the subject of

Of course that's true, but nothing in Marx's formal argument in ch. 5 rules
out these alternative cases--subject to the caveat noted above. Again,
this is entirely consistent with my characterization of Marx's historical
argument, and not at all contradictory to my critique of Marx's (solely)
value theoretic argument in Ch. 5.

> In contrast, Gil admits he is talking about production which is not
>occurring under capitalist relations;

It is not a question of "admitting" anything; I'm stating it, and state the
grounds for why it's legitimate to do so with respect to Marx's Ch. 5
argument. It's reading Marx's argument backwards to impute "historical
presuppositions" from V. III that he didn't make in Part 2 of Volume I.

 ie., it is production occurring under
>*other* relations of production which, however, are subject to the
>parasitic extraction of surplus. Merchants and usurers pump surpluses in
>the form of surplus value from, eg., independent peasant producers,
>craftsmen, feudal lords, slave-owners, and under some conditions this may
>lead to the non-reproduction of the latter relations--- but, then again, it
>may not because merchants and usurers are not the residual claimants.

Merchants are at least co-residual claimants, in the case of the
putting-out system anyway, because they fix the piece rates in advance. But
in any case Marx affirms that typically usury capitalists were able to
"pump surplus value" from workers like crazy--see his assessment on this
score in V. III, Ch. 36, e.g.

>can find this described as "contested reproduction" in a paper I gave in
>Cuba in February.)


>In short, the surplus value that Gil is talking about
>has little to do with capitalist production or the subject matter of
>CAPITAL, and to confound it with the latter by talking about a common
>characteristic of scarcity of capital simply confuses what should be pretty

Mike, for reasons given above I don't think I've committed this confusion.
To the contrary, since none of these historical conditions are mentioned
one way or another in Marx's chapter 5 argument, my point appears to remain
untouched that the purely value-theoretic grounds Marx gives for his
conclusion at the end of Ch. 5, and consequently the use to which he puts
it at the beginning of Ch. 6, are invalid. Thus the "surplus value I'm
talking about" meets all the conditions expressly established by marx in
Chapters 4 and 5, unless you want to assume that Marx's argument is circular.


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