[OPE-L:6438] Re: The significance of labor power commodification

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@MAIL.WESLEYAN.EDU)
Date: Wed Jan 23 2002 - 17:36:29 EST

We're more or less on the same page here, Alejandro.  You write in 6431:

>I think that, in real capitalism *workers* cannot "gain access" to
>*capital*. They can "access" the *means of production*, which is not the
>same, and this only temporally. They do not become the *owners* of the
>means of production.

Point taken: Marx makes a crucial distinction between "means of production"
and "capital." I accept that criticism. But it's not *categorically* true
that workers "do not become the *owners* of the means of production," since
in capitalist "reality" there are workers who become self-employed;
worker-owned firms, including many long-term stable ones; professional
worker partnerships, ditto; and capitalist firms that are gradually
becoming worker-owned through ESOP plans.  

Granting up front that these are not the representative case, one's theory
of capitalism must deal with the fact that such arrangements exist, and
often persist. On this point, for example, recall Marx's last statement in
Volume I, "that the capitalist mode of production and accumulation, and
therefore capitalist private property as whell, have for their fundamental
condition the annihilation of the private property which rests on the
labour of the individual himself; in other words, the expropriation of the
worker." Well, worker private property has been drastically reduced,
historically speaking, but certainly not *annihilated*, and the capitalist
mode of production and accumulation is chugging right along.  

>>> *by
>>> selling their labor power as a commodity*--rather than, say, borrowing
>>> money to finance constant capital costs or leasing capital goods
>>> directly

>How can "workers" borrow money or lease "capital goods" if they have no
>*property* guarantees to offer to the bankers? Are you assuming the the
>State gives them access to credit or something similar?

No.  In the context of the original motivation for this thread, I'm saying
one needs a theoretical *reason* why workers need collateral in order to
borrow money or lease constant capital commodities, and thus why labor
power must be commodified.  Of course I think compelling reasons exist, and
can be found in Marx if one looks for it, but a) they won't be found in
Chapters 4-6 of Volume I, if at all in Volume I, and b) they won't have
anything to do with possible quantitative connections between commodity
prices and values.  In other words, contrary to Marx's explicit
representation in Chapter 6, the "real capitalist" distinction between
labor and labor power, and more specifically the commodification of labor
power has nothing coherent to do with the possibility of explaining the
existence of surplus value under the scenario of price-value
proportionality.  Thus, if one wanted to account for the prevalent form of
capitalist exploitation under the capitalist mode of production--the form
you're insisting on here, Alejandro--you'd necessarily have to start from a
very different point than the one Marx establishes in Volume I of Capital,
and if you did, it *might* lead you to develop the theory in a different
way than that pursued by Marx in Volume I.  

>What is the definition of "worker" with which you are arguing here?

Someone who derives income primarily from exercising the use value of their
labor power, whether that income comes in the form of wages or not.  

>>> --essential to the process of creating surplus value under the
>>> capitalist mode of production, according to Marx's account in Volume I of
>>> Capital?
>>From Paul C's 6428:
>>Yes because of the real subsumption of labour to capital. Of course the
>>formal subsumption under manufacture leaves open the possiblity of 
>>independent workers hiring their means of production, and the formal
>>subsumption continues to exist in parallel with the real subsumption.
>>But modern technology makes the scale of the means of production
>>required for most production processes so large that workers can not
>>do this. This is one point of the anlysis of machinery and modern industry.
>Paul, I do agree with you here but I think the problem is not "the scale of
>the means of production" in itself but the *money-value* which is necessary
>to purchase them. Imagine we are in Wonderland and the whole US auto
>industry is offered to the Auto Workers Unions for $100. The huge material
>scale of the means of production involved wouldn't be a problem for ending
>the "real subsumption" you mention.

I agree, and add the converse point that small scale wouldn't help if
workers avoid real subsumption if they had to buy a small but extremely
expensive machine, e.g.


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