[OPE-L:4748] Re: Re: RE: Re: Re: Re: SV and the F of D

From: John Ernst (ernst@pipeline.com)
Date: Tue Jan 09 2001 - 10:41:10 EST

Re: 4742

For the sake of those attempting to follow  our discussion, I've
reproduced your post at the end of this one.  Let me state my
agreement with your idea that a necessary condition for capitalism
is the existence of a class without property or, more exactly,
without the means of production.  Here both of us follow Marx.

Further,  I think we agree that if everybody has, say, 40 acres
and mule with which he or she can produce enough to meet his or her 
needs capitalsis would, at least, find it difficult to find workers.
This is more or less the sense of the Wakefield passage below.

But once capital accumulates things change.  That is, it is
easy to imagine each of us owning and using his or her own 
means of production in a society that is more or less in a 
precapitalist state.  But once capitalism has revolutionized 
the means of production, how do we even imagine an equal 
distribution of the means of production?  Hence, I find
it difficult to grasp your idea that because capitalism 
requires a propertyless people, distributing property 
"equally" would end capitalist exploitation.   Spefically,
I have no idea what that distribution would look like 
given that the means of production are those of the 
period of "modern" or "large-scale" industry.  


Gil's Post

In response to this passage from me,

>D) As noted before, the key systemic basis for surplus value is capital 
>scarcity. **Marx puts this point even more strongly in Ch. 33 of Volume I: 
>if workers own their own means of production, then the capitalist mode of 
>production is impossible (see pages 933 and 940).** This has a number of 
>powerful implications, but note just one: the contrapositive of Marx's 
>claim is that capitalist exploitation can be eliminated simply through 
>sufficient wealth redistribution. [Emphasis added]

John writes:

>My comment:   Wait a sec.   Isn't Marx speaking of the ability of 
>capitalism to take root?  I think so.  Hence,  I'm unwilling to quickly
>accept those "powerful implications" concerning the  elimination of
>capitalist exploitation.  That is,  it's unclear to me that *merely*
>redistributing the wealth of a developed capitalist society puts an
>end to capitalist exploitation.   As long as the drive to accumulate
>for the sake of survival exists, there's seemingly nothing to prevent
>workers from hiring other workers with their redistributed wealth.   

I'd say the same thing, John, which is why I characterized Marx's version
of capital scarcity as "stronger" than the sense I understand to be
minimally required for the existence of capitalist exploitation.  But
you've gone me one better, because I must agree it's at least plausible
that Marx's Ch. 33 conclusions about the role of wealth distribution  in
Ch. 33 apply *only* to the conditions required for "capitalism to take
root,"  as you say.  Under this reading, it is certainly hasty at best to
xinfer that mere redistribution would eliminate capitalist exploitation.  

But I think this point demands further exploration.

1)  First, concerning the impact of distribution on exploitation: doesn't
Marx indicate in V. I, Ch. 6, without any caveat, that a *necessary*
condition for capitalists to find labor power for sale is that there exist
a propertyless class?  And if so doesn't this indicate that Marx also
thinks the indicated connection between distribution and exploitation holds
even *after* capitalism has taken root?

2)  Next, aside from what Marx says in Ch. 6 or elsewhere, why *wouldn't*
his Ch. 33 assessment of the connection between distribution and
exploitation also apply *after* capitalism has taken root?  What's
fundamentally different?

3)  Next, you say "...there's seemingly nothing to prevent workers from
hiring other workers with their redistributed wealth."

I agree.  But suppose those other workers had wealth as well--that is,
let's suppose perfectly equal wealth distribution for the sake of argument.
 Under this condition, would you still insist that the existence of capital
or labor markets implied the existence of capitalist exploitation in the
sense Marx intended?  If so, why? 

>Gil continues:
>That is, it's *Marx* who has insisted that this stronger version of capital
>scarcity is required for the existence of  
>capitalist exploitation.  So let Marx answer your question, again from Ch.
>33 of Volume I:
>"It is the great merit of E.G. Wakefield to have discovered, not something
>new *about* the colonies, but, *in* the colonies, the true about capitalist
>relations in the mother country....'If,' says Wakefield, 'all the members
>of the society are supposed to possess equal portions of capital...no man
>would have a motive for accumulating more capital than he could use with
>his own hands.  This is to some extent the case in new American
>settlements, where a passion for owning land prevents the existence of a
>class of labourers for hire.'   So long, therefore, as the worker can
>accumulate for himself--and this he can do so long as he remains in
>possession of his means of production--capitalist accumulation and the
>capitalist mode of production are impossible." [pp 932-33].
>My comment:  Marx's statement makes my case again.   He's talking about
>getting capitalism started and not giving us clues about how the end it.

Well, he doesn't *quite* make your case.  I agree that the explicit context
of his remarks concerns the *onset* of capitalism.  But nowhere in the
passage does he insist that this conclusion categorically *doesn't* hold
once capitalism has taken root.  

For myself, I would only note that this is not a definitely settled issue,
and therefore worthy of theoretical discussion.  Rakesh wanted to know what
the point of my Ch. 5 critique is, and this is a part of the point.  That
is, I'm only trying to say that there is a serious theoretical problem in
need of resolution, not that I've figured out the ultimate resolution. 


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