[OPE-L:5285] Re: Re: (Response to Rakesh)

From: Rakesh Narpat Bhandari (rakeshb@Stanford.EDU)
Date: Wed Mar 28 2001 - 21:22:07 EST

re 5282

Hi Gil,


In terms of  the commodification of labor power and the 
generalization of commodity production, one need not be the 
independent and the other the dependent variable, as you seem to 

I can only be suggestive here. The generalization of commodity 
production depends on a market scale that can only be secured if 
workers have to purchase their means of consumption  on the market. 
If people are to turn to the market for the satisfaction of even the 
most basic of needs, entrepreneurs will have to be able to satisfy 
them, and this is faciliated by their being able to draw from a pool 
of free wage labor so that they can respond to unmet market demand.

Of course entrepreneurs do not produce  to satisfy needs (the baker's 
self interest and all that) but for the purposes of profit.

Yet how can entrepreneurs not only secure surplus value but also 
systematically increase the value in circulation if workers are free 
to contract as they wish? That is, why is it that when proletarians 
freely work for wages they  do tend to increase the value in 
circulation? The answer here has to be different than the answer to 
why the value in circulation can and has been increased by the 
putting out system or could be increased if cooperatives rented means 
of production.


You sketch out some explanation for why in a society in which 
commodity production is generalized, we do not indeed find workers 
engaged in the putting out system (the absence of a free wage labor 
pool would obvioulsy put a constraint on the entrepreneurial ability 
to meet unmet demands) or renting means of production but rather 
generally alienating their labor power.

Let us say that Marx rules out such rental arrangements and the 
putting out system.

You seem to think that nothing interesting can be said once this is stipulated.
But this is to miss the fundamental discovery.

In the case that entrepreneurs find themselves on the free wage labor 
"island",  it still turns out (assuming the labor theory of value) 
that workers cannot exchange their labor for wages if via the 
industrial circuit of capital the value in circulation is to 
increase.  Workers have to be exchanging their labor power.

You do not seem to have denied that in this usual case, the reason 
why the value in circulation can be systematically increased is 
simply that workers do indeed exchange their labor power, rather than 
their labor, for wages.

And finally Marx does spend quite a bit of time demonstraing why by 
putting workers under one roof, the capitalists magnify the power of 
surplus value extraction. Haven't read Marglin.


On primitive accumulation. Marx's purpose here is to not so much to 
provide the micro foundations for the collapse of the putting out 
system (at least in vol I) but to expose bourgeois history as a myth 
(or nursery tale) to cover over a contradiction (and here perhaps we 
should turn to Levi Strauss) between its ideology of equality and the 
real state of affairs in which one set of these equal commodity 
owners possesses money, means of production and power and the other 
set of these equal commodity owners has nothing save its skin to sell.

>  But I'd say that the reverse is at least equally plausible:  the
>commodification of labor power was driven by the expansion of commodity

does this mean that said expansion would not have reached limits if 
not for the commodification of labor power?

>I'd say the actual historical sequence of events favors the
>latter interpretation (since expanded commodity production was first
>pursued on the basis of proto-industrial forms such as artisan and
>putting-out systems that did not exchanges for wage labor), and there are
>at least two plausible theoretical linkages:
>(1)  Expanding commodity production corresponds to expansion of monetized
>market activities; leading to increased need for liquidity by peasants
>engaged in traditional forms of production; leading to increased demand for
>usury capital, which, following Marx, lead to increased expropriation and
>consequent forcing of small commodity producers into urban labor-power
>markets, raising the supply of wage labor;

You make primitive accumulation seem as if it were the result of 
short-sighted peasants taking on too much credit card debt under a 
punitive bankruptcy regime.  At any rate this is an important 
historical debate. Suffice to say, Marx includes a wallop or two.

>(2)  The need to respond to rising commodity market demand induced
>putting-out and other forms of merchant capitalists to exert greater direct
>control over the production process, leading to rising demand for wage labor.

Again, how one goes from the desire for control to not only the 
demand for but also availability of free wage labor is a complex 
historical question.

>To put this point another way:  as I've mentioned again recently, the fact
>that workers are "free in the double sense" is not of itself sufficient to
>account for the fact that they gain access to the physical means of
>production primarily by selling their labor power--their simple capacity to
>work--as a commodity.  They could instead rent or lease capital or else
>offer solely their labor *services* for sale, as in the putting-out system.

Why it is that capitalists do find themselves paying wages instead of 
leasing means of prod or using a putting out system does not explain 
why as a result of the production of commodities by means of wage 
labor the value in circulation is systematically increased. That is, 
you are asking why one form of surplus value production prevailed 
over another. You are then arguing that Marx provides no argument in 
chs 5 and 6; and I am saying this is because it has nothing to do 
with his argument.

>To explain the rise of markets for labor *power*, you need to introduce
>theoretical considerations not raised by Marx in Volume I, Part 2 of
>Capital (but suggested elsewhere in his historical analysis).

Right. But Marx is not trying to explain rise of said market. He 
confines himself to it theoretically as capitalists do practically.

>  Absent these
>additional theoretical considerations, there's no plausible connection
>whatever between the rise of commodity production and the commodification
>of labor power.

But that linkage is not the main point of chs 5 and 6.

>By Marx's definition, exchange alone cannot create value, no matter whether
>the exchanges in question involve circuits of usury or merchant capital.

But the latter can increase the use value of commodities to their new 
owners even if skims some value off the top.

>However, as a historical matter circuits of usury and merchant capital that
>financed direct commodity production (as in the putting-out system) did
>result, as you say, in the creation of surplus value.

I don't deny it.

>   Note, in
>anticipation of your next question, that these latter circuits necessarily
>led to an *increase* in the total value in circulation; they did not simply
>redistribute the value that existed prior to initiation of these circuits.
>This is a necessary implication of Marx's, and your, use of the term
>"surplus value" in describing these relations.

No problem.

>>"Industrial capital gives to production its capitalist character. Its
>>existence includes that of class antagonism between capitalists and
>>labourers. To the extent it assumes control over social production,
>>the technique and social organization of the labor process are
>>revolutionized and with the economic and historical type of society.
>>The other kinds of capital, which appear before the industrial
>>capital amid past or declining conditions of social production, are
>>not only subordinated to it and suffer changes in mechanism of their
>>functions corresponding with it, but move on it as a basis; they live
>>and die, stand and fall, as this, their basis, lives and dies, stands
>>and falls. Money capital and commodity capital, in so far as they
>>appear and function as bearers of their own peculiar branches of
>>business alongside industrial capital, are now only modes of
>>existence of the various functional forms that industrial capital
>  >constantly assumes and discards within the circulation sphere"
>>Marx, Capital, vol II, p. 136 (penguin, though I mixed in Korsch's
>[Yeah, for what it's worth I quote this passage myself in my paper on "The
>Role of Production Relations in Marx's Theory of Capitalist Exploitation",
>available on my web site.  It's consistent with the reading of Marx I give

What do you say about this passage?

>  The onset of the capitalist mode of production was
>associated historically with a fundamental change in class conditions that
>arguably made it difficult if not impossible for circuits of usury and
>merchant capital to proceed as they had before.

How were they changed in character?

Yours, Rakesh

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