[OPE-L:6406] Re: The significance of labor power commodification

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Mon Jan 21 2002 - 21:28:59 EST

Gil asks in 6402:

>Is the commodification of labor power *essential* or *incidental* to the
>process of transforming money into capital, according to Marx's account in
>Volume I of Capital?

It is indeed essential in Marx's account (though not in reality) 
because in his "account", i.e., his theory of a pure advanced 
capitalism,   Marx rules out by assumption the putting out system or 
some variant thereof (you give examples of usury and merchant 
capital,right?); he assumes that workers have been expropriated and 
that we are on free wage labor island and then concludes that despite 
appearances free wage workers cannot be alienating their labor time 
in exchange with Mr Moneybags if money is being transformed into 

Marx's claim is not that surplus value MUST be produced and CAN ONLY 
be produced by free wage labor (Marx as you know himself recognized 
otherwise, and jairus Banaji had a round of debates on this long ago 
which I don't believe you cite); Marx's claim is that free wage labor 
can only produce surplus value if it is LABOR POWER, rather than 
LABOR TIME itself, that it gives up in exchange.

Marx's claim is that one cannot explain the systematic increase in 
surplus value on the free wage labor island by assuming that workers 
give up the commodity that they exchange at less than value.

You have your claims of necessity all mixed up!

Marx arrives at this conclusion by first postulating PVE, so that we 
can see that surplus value does not depend on the thing (and a 
peculiar thing it indeed is) that free wage laborers do exchange 
having sold below its value; he later tells us that the wage is in 
fact often driven below the value of labor power.

  As I understand you, you are arguing that the putting out system (or 
some like system) is a form of surplus value production that depends 
on exchanges that violate PVE.

You say that it is fine for Marx to argue that circulation in itself 
cannot yield surplus value, but it's illegitimate to jump from that 
(tautologous) conclusion to postulating PVE as an essential condition 
for the explanation of surplus value.

I understand you to be arguing  that Marx gives no reason other than 
this purely arbitrary postulate of PVE (which does not follow 
logically from the tautology that circulation cannot itself increase 
the value in circulation) why surplus value has to be produced via 
the exploitation of free wage labor rather than through something 
like the putting out system.

Gil, is this what you are saying?

And I say again that the historical logic of why one form of surplus 
value production became the dominant form is not at all Marx's 
dominant concern in vol I (again I agree with you against others on 
this list that the putting out system and modern plantation slavery 
were in fact systems of surplus value production); the mysteries of 
the free wage labor system as it appears in an advanced and fully 
developed capitalism is Marx's concern.

Marx's method  is not logico historical. Marx is NOT in vol I 
attempting to explain why one form of surplus value production came 
to dominate historically over other forms. He assumes the free wage 
labor form. This is already the mystery that confounds the free 
wage-laboring class in its daily life.

And the exploitation of free wage labor does not depend on violations 
of PVE--you seem not to think that this is a theoretical 
clarification of the greatest importance--but Marx never says that 
the exploitation of free wage labor is in fact carried out in 
accordance with PVE.

You insist that surplus value does not have to be produced via the 
exploitation of free wage labor (and I am one of the few people on 
the list who agree with you!) and that Marx gives no convincing 
reasons why it has to be produced this way.

And again and again I insist that you are completely misreading 
Marx's intent. Marx already assumes that surplus value is produced 
through the exploitation of free wage labor (he says that he is 
confining himself theoretically to what Mr Moneybags is confined to 
practically) but to understand how this is possible requires getting 
beneath the fetishism of the free wage labor form which allows Marx 
to discover the distinction between labor power and labor.

In getting beneath that form, Marx assumes that whatever workers 
exchange is exchanged at its value (at this point in the argument we 
do not understand that this entails the wage being at the prices of 
production, rather than the values, of the wage goods that enter into 
the workers' reproduction).


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