[OPE-L:7080] Re: surplus value discussion

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Sun Apr 28 2002 - 09:56:10 EDT

Re Ian's [7078]:

> I certainly was questioning whether a necessary condition of the existence
> of surplus value (in an abstract form) is that commodity exchange is part
> of the circuit of capital. I proposed a more abstract notion of surplus
> value, which of course, is defined not by some stuff but by social
> relations involved in exchanging commodities.

OK,  let's consider this question more.

A.  for the purpose of discussion, call a commodity (with a small "c") any
good which is produced with the intent of being sold and thereby
contains a (presumed)  utility and a (presumed) exchange-value.  Let us
further specify, for the sake of discussion, that there is a surplus product
being produced.

B. commodity (note small "c") can be produced under a wide variety
of historical circumstances.   A list of some (but not all) of these
circumstances include:

l.  commodity production by serfs (with or without the corvee system)
for landlords;

2. commodity production (where there is commodity production) by
slaves for the slave-owning class;

3. commodity production by members of feudal guilds;

4. commodity production by worker or peasant cooperatives.

C.  In all of the above circumstances (l-4), the only common 'social
relation involved in exchanging commodities' is that there is a social
relation _in the market_ between *buyer and seller*.  Thus, from the
standpoint of the buyer it makes no difference in terms of which
circumstance the commodity was produced. This is of no concern to
the buyer who is only concerned with the use-value (and, possibly,
exchange-value of the commodity.  From the standpoint of the seller,
all that matters is that the potential buyer has enough money or other
commodities to trade (since your most abstract definition doesn't
*require* money for there to be commodity production) to buy
the commodity output.

D. I see *no* reason to say that under any of the above, anything
more than the general transhistorical category of a surplus product
has been produced.  There is surplus production and there are
markets and there is exchange-value but all of the above (l-4)
represent *different* systems of  social relations concerning
the agents in the production process.  Nor -- less significantly --
is there any one method for the determination of exchange-value
for all of these circumstances -- thus, as we discussed previously,
the feudal guilds could to a great extent simply 'set' the exchange
ratio or money price of the commodity output produced by guild
members in an arbitrary way.

E. Let's fast forward to a period of time when the capitalist mode
of production has become dominant.  Assume that there are
commodities produced under the circumstances described above
(l-4) and there are Commodities (large "C") produced under
conditions where there are capital/wage-labor social relations.
We can all agree that the commodities which are produced under
l-4 where they are of the same type (and thereby have the same
presumed utility)  and where they are sold on the same markets
with Commodities of the same type, have a (presumed) exchange-
value which  tends to be equal to the exchange-value of the other
Commodities.  That is, the exchange-value for goods of the same
type tend to be equal regardless of whether they are commodities or
Commodities.  Moreover, we would have reason to believe under
most circumstances that the exchange-value of both commodities and
Commodities will tend under conditions of generalized production
and sale of Commodities to be determined by the conditions of
Commodity production.  Thus, for instance,  the exchange-value of
commodity  'x' produced by  a workers' cooperative tends to be
determined by the conditions of production in capitalist firms who
produce 'X' (this would be the case, for instance, regardless of whether
'x' was sold as means of subsistence for workers or to capitalist firms
as means of production.)  And, of course, it may be that capitalist firms
come to rely on commodities, for various historical reasons, for
Commodity production.

F. Now we return to the question at hand:  although both commodities
and Commodities have a  use-value and an exchange-value and although
the exchange-value tends to be identical for commodities and
Commodities and although there is a surplus product assumed to be
produced under all circumstances *if we are going to hold to the claim
that value and surplus value represent specific social relations between
capitalists and producers*, then  *none* of the commodities produced
would have *value* or *surplus value*  -- even though (as we have
already seen buyers tend to treat commodities and Commodities the
same.)  This is because the only social relation that l-4 have in common
is a relation of exchange between buyer and seller.  Yet, if we compare
commodities to Commodities we see that there are *different* sets of
*social relations of production*  in l, 2, 3, 4, and where there is
Commodity production.  Thus, while it appears from the standpoint of the
market  that commodities = Commodities, it is precisely the *differences*
in production  relations which  *distinguish*  them (and yet, *to the eye*
in the market make them  *indistinguishable*) ... and it is  the *specific
production relations* that determine whether the surplus product takes the
*particular  form* of surplus value.

In solidarity, Jerry

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