[OPE-L:7087] Re: Re: surplus value discussion

From: Ian Hunt (Ian.Hunt@flinders.edu.au)
Date: Sun Apr 28 2002 - 22:47:03 EDT

Dear Jerry,
Thanks for that. It clarifies your position for me. I suppose the
difference between your view and mine, is that I am also using a relatively
abstract definition of "social relations of production" which i take to be
"socially grounded relations of control over the productive forces of
society which determine the interests served by their use (employment)". In
this sense, i do not take commodity relations to be entirely "empty of
content", where "content" is understood to be "social relations of
production". I think that patriarchal slavery differs significantly from
slave based commodity production in that buyers of the product exercise
some control over the productive forces. A slave owner producing for the
market submits himself (this is not a sexist use of the term) to market
discipline: and this make a difference to the interests served by the
employment of the productive forces. Of course, market relations cannot be
the only social relations of production in a society, whereas slavery in
principle can be. Also market relations of production are inherently
"gappy" and therefore "promiscuous" in the way you mention under your point
But I can see why you think that treating "value" as other than a stuff
helps make  your position work: on the "stuff" view, value might be
something attached to a commodity that it carries around, so why should it
meet another indiscernible commodity that lacks its bit of value?
i can also see, from your comments on guild commodity production, why you
might think that exchange relations have no efficacy in themsleves at all
but only have such efficacy as they borrow from their social context. I
would not agree that guild commodity production could be entirely
arbitrary, though the medieval notion of "fair price" usuggests that there
must be an element of arbitrariness (as there is even in capitalist
commodity production, where prices are set according to an in part
arbitrary judgement of what will be profit maximising in the long run)
I will try to get my head around your position and the related "value form"
analysis a bit better than I have hitherto - as I say, your message has
given me a good start,

>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

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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