[OPE-L:6993] Re: surplus value discussion

From: Ian Hunt (Ian.Hunt@flinders.edu.au)
Date: Mon Apr 15 2002 - 07:39:46 EDT

Dear Jerry,
I agree that the account of what happens is important. As I said in
response to some earlier post, which I can't remember, I am not sure
whether the redistribution of value theory of commerical profit is correct
(but equally I am not sure that it is not). Your formulations about
redistribution of value in various cases of buying cheap in order to sell
dear are therefore acceptable to me, although there are also other cases
where profits are appropriated (Marx calls them 'super profits') because
'individual values' differ from market value. This is so in many instances
of profits from trade, and also in cases where one more productive
capitalist  will appropriate super profits (the individual rate of surplus
value of this capitalist will be above average). I agree also that in cases
such as sale of diamonds, the profits do not represent surplus value
extracted from the workers employed but from the ultimate purchasers.
In the case of slavery, where slaves are used to produce commodities for a
market, I  don't see why we should not say that the slaves created
commodities with a value in excess of the value of the products, including
amortisation of a slave. We could call the difference 'surplus value' (ie,
surplus labour in the money form). The form of commodity production is not
capitalist commodity production. We do not have surplus value as money
profits extracted from investment in the employment of wage labour, that
is, we don't have surplus value created through investment inter alia in
'variable' capital.
I am happy to talk of monetary profits in all of these cases, and to talk
also of 'surplus value' in cases such as slavery on the basis of an analogy
with capitalist exploitation. I am happy to use the term 'surplus-value',
where 'value' means the substance of exchange-value in commodity exchange,
if there is such a thing. The issue, as I see it, is whether in each form
of commodity production or exchange, there is a substance of
'exchange-value' call it 'value'. If there is, then it is appropriate to
speak of 'surplus-value' arising from usury , trade, slavery, etc. It is
another question whether the substance of exchange value in capitalist
commodity production is the same as the substance of value in these other
other forms. I think it is an empirical question whether there is a
substance to exchange value outside capitalist commodity production. If the
empirical evidence shows that there is no substance to exchange in cases
other than capitalist commodity production, then we can talk about money
profits outside capitalism, surplus value and redistributions of it within
capitalism, and for remnants of previous modes of production within
capitalism, we could say that their products have value in virtue of their
place in the system,

>Re Ian's [6984-5]:
>[From 6985]:
>> However, I think it is a bit rigid to say that the only form of
>> 'surplus-value' in a broad sense that can exist is a surplus of exchange
>> value on variable capital. This is certainly the most dynamic form of
>> surplus value, the only kind that is part of a system of self-valorising
>> value. Merchant capital and slave-owner's capital don't have the same
>> dynamic role: they depend on differentials in costs of production which
>> globalising capital tends to reduce. As long as we are clear about the
>> respective forms of 'surplus-value' it may be less confusing to accept
>> alongside the capitalist variety.
>>  Alternatively, we could try to reserve value for surplus labour in the
>> form of exchange value derived from employment of (formally) free wage
>> labour, and talk of monetary profits in the case of merchants and slave
>> owners. The advantage of this wouls be to emphasise the unique properties
>> of capitalism proper, prefigured but not realised in earlier forms (or
>> contemporary 'backward' forms such as US plantation capital in the
>> ante-bellum south). The advantage of the other formulation is that it
>> highlights the analogies between capitalism and other modes of production
>> (and even modes of profit making such as usury and merchant trade that
>> on appropriating surplus labour from inferior methods of production or
>> shortages or lack of liquidity) in the way Marx does when he compares
>> slavery, feudalism and capitalism as modes of extracting surplus labour
>> from a labouring population in Vol 1 of Capital. Here he says that under
>> capitalism it APPEARS that there is no unpaid labour, whereas in slavery
>> APPEARS that there is no paid labour. Talking of 'surplus-value' in slave
>> commodity production is one way of going beneath those appearances. of
>> course, you have also to recognise the difference, as the appearances have
>> some reality (highlighted, for example, when slaves are worked to death)
>Well, of course, we could use 's' in contrast to 'S' or 'v' (for value, not
>variable capital) as distinct from 'V' (which you suggest in your 6984 reply
>to Chris).  It would be a confusing use of terms but that is a secondary
>question: the primary question should be how we are to conceive of what
>Paul B called "anachronisms"  within our overall comprehension of capitalism
>(unless we want also to have  a discussion about pre-capitalist modes of
>production.)  Again you have referred [84-85] to monetary profits received
>by merchant capitalists who buy low and sell high.  How are we to understand
>these processes more concretely in terms of whether s or S is created,
>whether it represents a redistribution of  S internationally, or whether
>other causal forces or at work? Let us look  more concretely at this issue
>so that we can distinguish separate historical forms for how this happens:
>A.   There are well-established markets, e.g. futures markets, where the aim
>of the market participants is to buy at one price and resell -- often in
>very short order -- to others on that market at a higher price.   Whether
>pork rinds, or or comic books, or baseball cards are purchased, in these
>markets,  this is clearly _not_ an example of the production of surplus
>value.  Rather, we can comprehend this as a form of  *speculation* and,
>thereby, a *redistribution* of surplus value in the form of  a reallocation
>of profit. In these markets,  some gain and some lose but there is no net
>creation of S (or even s?).
>B.  There are other less formal markets where there is a trade of goods
>produced  prior to the advent of capitalism: e.g. the ongoing trade in
>'antiquities'.  In some cases there is even no money exchanged: e.g. where
>there is grave-robbing by those who then sell the goods that may never
>have been produced as commodities to begin with.   Even though Marx
>claimed that "The chapter on primitive accumulation claims no more than to
>trace the path by which, in Western Europe, the capitalist economic order
>emerged from the womb of the feudal economic order"  ("A letter to the
>Editorial Board  of Otechestvennye Zapiski" in Teodor Shanin ed. _Late
>Marx and the Russian Road_, p. 135), I think that the concept of  the
>*primitive accumulation of capital*  does have ongoing meaning for how
>we interpret this form of profit-gaining.  (What role, if any, there is for
>applying this concept to the analysis of contemporary social formations has
>been debated recently in the online journal  _Commons_ by Werner
>Bonefeld, Paul Z and others.)  In this case as  well, there is no net
>creation of S (or even s?), but there is certainly a potential gain (profit)
>to be made by the merchants who sell these goods.
>C. There is theft and plunder in items or goods that were more recently
>created or produced.  E.g. there may be the theft and plunder of items
>from land either privately owned or owned by the state.   Thus,  much of
>the world's ivory comes from elephants which are slaughtered illegally
>on state-owned lands.   There are many other instances as well, of
>course.  In many of these cases, the object being stolen had never been
>a commodity. In other cases (e.g. the theft of armaments from the
>state), the good being stolen may have been previously produced as
>a commodity.  Depending on the characteristics of which instances we
>are talking about, we could conceptualize this as either part of the
>(ongoing) *primitive accumulation of capital*   or the illegal re-sale of
>commodities.  in either case, there is a redistribution of wealth
>monetized in the form of profit rather than the creation of S (or even
>D. There is also the more common practice  of merchants attempting to
>obtain products produced on local markets in  less developed capitalist
>economies for re-sale at much higher prices in markets in advanced
>capitalist nations.  E.g. the purchase of "primitive art" and crafts
>produced in more traditional societies for re-sale in art galleries in
>New York, London, Paris, etc.   There is _clearly_ a form of
>exploitation going on here (although it may be confusing for Marxists
>to use that word in this context).  Yet, again, I don't think this buying
>low and selling high can be thought of as the production of S (or even s?)
>even though the merchants obviously profit from this activity.  It should
>be noted, though, that as this process continues, the opportunities for
>excess profiting in this manner tend to disappear as local sellers learn
>the market price of the goods that they sell and insist on higher prices
>(this, for example, has happened on many Polynesian islands) and the
>'excess profit-taking' could thus be seen as transitory.
>E.  There is also the more systematic purchase of goods below their
>value for sale to (other) petty-producers (as inputs) or to workers
>or other classes (as subsistence goods).   Due to the mass poverty and
>the huge size of the relative surplus population in many less developed
>economies, the poor have been forced into non-traditional and non-waged
>ways of supporting themselves. Here I refer to the petty commodity
>sector -- called by others the "informal sector"  -- in many contemporary
>capitalist formations. While this sector might be seen as being a
>manifestation of a social crisis brought about by capitalism, this sector
>seems to show  no signs of being a merely transitory condition (although,
>this of course does not necessarily mean that they are permanent.)  Again,
>I think it would be  misleading to refer to the production of S by
>producers in this sector.  I  would suggest, rather, that in these markets
>there  is a *redistribution of  value*, including from wage-earners to those
>employed in the petty commodity sector.
>I think _everyone_ in  this discussion will agree that in the analysis of
>particular capitalist social formations the existence of  all of the above
>(as well as slavery and other forms of bonded labor) can not be "swept
>under the rug" (i.e. hidden; ignored) since they may be important for
>comprehending the social formation in question even though they are
>not essential to a _theory_ of capitalism.   So, the issue has _never_
>been whether these subjects are significant and real -- rather the issue
>is _how_ they should be comprehended.  I would like to see more
>discussion on whether your proposed distinctions between s and S and
>v and V are analytically useful and/or whether there are other concepts
>(such as  speculation, the primitive accumulation of capital,  and the
>redistribution of V and S internationally) which have greater explanatory
>In solidarity, Jerry

Associate Professor Ian Hunt,
Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy,
Philosophy Dept, School of Humanities,
Flinders University of SA,
Humanities Building,
Bedford Park, SA, 5042,
Ph: (08) 8201 2054 Fax: (08) 8201 2784

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