[OPE-L:7441] Re: definitely not about Ch. 5

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Mon Jul 22 2002 - 17:41:08 EDT

Hi, Mike, it's good to hear from you--How are things on Lasqueti?  You wrote

>Hi Gil,
>    I'm off on that isolated island again and so have no access to that 
> [Albritton-Zmolek] exchange (unless it's available on-line); I'd love to 
> hear what you found interesting and what you found annoying. As for 
> avoiding a return to the Chapter 5 'quagmire' (although, as you know, 
> I've always felt the problem--if any-- is in Chapter 6), that remains to 
> be seen.

[Prompted by your comments about Chapter 6, I've extended the Chap. 5 
critique to include Marx's argument there, but continue to believe the 
problem starts with 5--in fact I think I have an even clearer sense of the 
problem now than in our last exchange on the topic, partly because that 
last exchange--and subsequent ones here on OPE-L--have prompted me to read 
both Capital and its "dress rehearsals"--Grundrisse and Ec Mss of 
1861-63--more carefully.  As for returning to the Ch. 5 quagmire, I'm 
keeping to a self-imposed restriction not to pursue that issue any further 
on OPE-L--though if the following piques your interest and leads into Ch. 5 
territory I'd be pleased to pursue it with you offline.]

In a nutshell, Albritton takes issue with Brenner's contention that British 
"agrarian capitalism" was the prime mover of capitalism, arguing the 
commodification of labor power is a necessary basis of the latter, and that 
LP was insufficiently commodified until the 2nd half of the 19th (!) 
century to allow commercial farming in Gr. Br. to be called 
"capitalist."  I find the topic, and several of the historical details 
adduced in the debate, to be intrinsically interesting, but the debate 
itself annoying in that the central issue seems to me miscast by Albritton 
right from the beginning, and Zmolek doesn't really call him on 
it.  [However, in light of Albritton's characterization, I now understand 
why Rakesh has taken issue with my suggestion that putting-out was 
characterized by commodification of labor power!]

Albritton, in my reading, gets off on the wrong foot right off the bat in 
his initial 1993 article in JPStud by asserting

"In order for value to be able to expand itself according to the basic 
formula of capital M-C-M', capital must totally subsume the labour and 
production process such that all inputs and outputs are totally 
commodified."  [1993, p. 420]

Albritton gives no reference or justification for this reading, and to me 
it seems highly problematic.  Let alone that "labour process" and 
"production process" refer to the same thing, and that subsumption in the 
Marxian sense Albritton putatively intends has nothing whatsoever to do 
with the commodification of *outputs* (this being presumed in the first 
place), Albritton simply and fundamentally misrepresents Marx in asserting 
categorically that M-C-M' *requires* "total subsumption" of labor under 
capital.  To the contrary, I read Marx as repeatedly asserting, in the 
Grundrisse, Ec Mss 1861-63, Resultate, and KIII, that in two historical 
cases, usury and merchant capital respectively financed productive activity 
(the putting-out system being an instance of the latter), reaping surplus 
value via the circuit of capital M-C-M' *did not* involve subsumption of 
labor under capital.

But my major problem with Albritton's framing of the argument lies in his 
conceptualization of "fully commodified labor power" (FCLP), for which also 
he gives no theoretical justification or grounding in Marx's writing.  By 
his definition, FCLP has no less than 6 components:

1) Workers are completely separated from all means of production;
2) Workers have no means of support outside their wage.  "This implies[sic] 
that they must receive a 'subsistence wage'..."
3) Wages are paid frequently (usually weekly) in money form.
4). The relation between capital and labor is totally impersonal in the 
sense that capital treats labor as simply a commodity input. In other words 
capital freely hires and fires labor as needed, and "*freely organizes the 
combination of labour-power and other productive inputs in the production 
5) Workers must, at least in principle, be mobile in order to be able to 
respond to changes in supply and demand in the labour market.
6) No form of extra-economic force interferes with the labor market whether 
from labor, capital, landlords, the state, or any other interventionist 
source.  [p. 424]

Ach, where to begin?  This definition is an incredibly unwieldy basis for a 
careful historical analysis.  Marx's definition is much simpler:  labor 
power is commodified if capitalists can find on the market individuals who 
offer their ability to work for sale.
Albritton's condition (1) deals with a (possible) *economic basis* for 
labor power commodification (LPC), not the condition itself; and while Marx 
did think this was a necessary condition for LPC, he didn't include this as 
part of his definition of the phenomenon.  Bad form at least to include 
one's theory of the phenomenon in the definition of the phenomenon--the 
theory could be wrong, and even non-dispossessed workers might supply labor 
power (as indeed they often do)--what then?

(2) has the same problem as (1), but adds the non sequitur that if workers 
receive no other means of support, the wage must be at its subsistence 
level.  This is not necessarily the case, of course, and Marx does not 
categorically affirm this conclusion (i.e., he allows the possibility that 
the wage may rise above its subsistence level).

(4)  assumes in effect that subsumption of labor under capital (SLC) is 
simply an aspect of LPC.  But this need not be the case--arguably, in fact, 
the putting-out system is an instance in which you have LPC but not SLC 
--and more to the point this is not how Marx defines the terms (More on 
this point below).  For Marx, SLC presupposes LPC, but not necessarily 

(5)  again confuses market conditions that inform LPC rather than LPC 
itself.  Suppose that non-mobile coal mining workers sell their labor power 
in an Appalachian "company town."  I don't see why their labor power can't 
be considered commodified from a Marxian perspective.

(6) seems excessively strong, since it suggests, as Marx never did, that 
labor power was not commodified in any labor market to which the Factory 
Acts (for example) applied.  Nonsense.  Marx's whole point that legislation 
like the Factory Acts was *necessitated* by capitalism's rapacious greed 
for surplus labor once LP was commodified.

In short, when Albritton defines FCLP in this way, I think he establishes 
his point at the cost of making it essentially irrelevant to what 
Brenner--or Marx--was arguing.

>You wrote:
>>Viewing the putting-out system through the lens of Marx's analytical 
>>categories, I understand the putting-out system to be an instance of the 
>>circuit of merchant's capital that involves the commodification of labor 
>>power but *not* the subsumption of labor under capital, in even the 
>>formal sense.  Insofar a this system is a form of surplus value 
>>production, then subsumption is not required for capitalist exploitation, 
>>or at least wasn't required under the class conditions obtaining in that era.
>>If this is an accurate summary, it prompts two questions:  first, what 
>>made it possible for capitalist exploitation to occur without even the 
>>formal subsumption of labor under capital, and second, would it be 
>>possible for surplus value to exist--if perhaps not at the same magnitude 
>>as in the circuit of industrial capital characterized by wage labor and 
>>capitalist production--on the basis of putting-out production under 
>>modern class conditions?

>         There are two questions that, in my view, need clarification: (1) 
> what do you mean by formal subsumption

I mean it in the same sense that Marx does--indeed, my intent is exactly to 
proceed from his definition--as spelled out in the Resultate and the Ec 
Mss. 1861-63.  Formal subsumption is said to exist when "the capitalist 
intervenes in [a pre-existing labor] process as its director, manager" 
(Resultate, p 1019) without at all changing the process of production 
itself (which would constitute the real subsumption of labor under 
capital).  Thus *formal* subsumption involves (merely) direct oversight of 
given production processes by capitalists.  As we'll see below, Marx 
explicitly excludes the putting-out system from this rubric.

>  and (2) what do you mean by the putting-out system? Consider several 
> alternative states. In each, the craftworkers own some of their own means 
> of production (e.g., a loom) and work within their own homes.
>         A. The craftsman (X) obtains raw materials (RM) from the merchant 
> (Y), transforms them in some way and yields all the finished products 
> (P)  to Y and receives in return a money-payment.

This is the scenario that corresponds to my understanding of the 
putting-out system, though your use of the verb "obtains" for what  X does 
with the raw materials may beg a question.  One could as readily--and 
perhaps more historically accurately-- put it that merchant Y supplies 
craftsman X with raw materials and engages him to transform them to 
finished products (P) for a consideration paid in money.

>         B. X obtains RM from Y, transforms them and yields a portion (q) 
> of P to Y; the remaining portion X sells as commodities (in C-M-C). q is 
> determined in accordance with a contractual ratio of P/RM.

>         C. X obtains RM from Y, transforms them and yields a portion (q) 
> of P to Y; the remaining portion X sells as commodities (in C-M-C). q is 
> determined as a given proportion of P.

I take cases (B) and (C) to be particular forms of usury capital, in which 
the initial capital is supplied in commodity form.  Here the word "obtains" 
is operative:  X determines the production process, and thus determines 
what raw materials are needed.  Here q, whether it's "determined in 
accordance with a contractual ratio of P/RM" "determined as a given 
proportion of P" or simply a fixed payment, takes the form of an interest 
payment or profit share.

>         There are obviously other variants but these may suffice. How 
> would you distinguish among these? Ie., do you see these as qualitatively 
> different?

Yes, for the reason suggested above:  in *supplying* a given set of raw 
materials to the craftsman, the merchant capitalist to that small extent 
plays a role in determining the process of production. I take the key 
difference between putting-out merchant capital and interest capital 
financing production to be that in the latter case, the capitalist does not 
determine the conditions of production in any way.  However....

>         I would describe A as a case where the worker is formally 
> subsumed under capital. The worker here has property rights in neither 
> the raw materials nor the finished products, works in accordance with the 
> goal of that merchant and only in and through the merchant- 
> manufacturer's capital.

Of course, we're all free to use definitions as we see fit.  But following 
Marx, I do not characterize case (A) as an instance of formal subsumption:

"A further example is *merchant's capital*, which commissions a number of 
immediate producers, then collects their produce and sells it, perhaps 
making them advances in the form of raw material [Bingo!--GS], etc. or even 
money.  It is this form that provides the soil from which modern capitalism 
has grown and here and there it still forms the transition to capitalism 
proper.  Here too we find no formal subsumption of labor under 
capital."  [Resultate, p. 1023]

(He repeats this distinction in the Ec Mss of 1861-63 as well.)

>  Obviously, the limited surveillance means that workers are cheating as 
> much as possible in order to extract themselves from this relationship 
> but this would not alter the nature of the relation.

Yes, and under Marx's conceptual framework, this cheating was part of what 
prompted the move to formal subsumption of labor under capital, leading to 
the possibility of reaping gains in the form of *absolute* surplus 
value.  Marx again:

"The fact is that capital subsumes the labour process as it finds it, that 
is to say, it takes over an existing labour process...And since that is the 
case it is evident that capital took over an available, established labour 
process.  For example, handicraft....If changes occur in these traditional 
established labour processes after their takeover by capital, these are 
nothing but the gradual consequences of that subsumption.  The work may 
become more intensive, its duration may be extended, it may become more 
continuous or orderly  under the eye of the interested capitalist...Thus 
[formal subsumption]...as a form of compulsion by which surplus labour is 
exacted by extending the duration of labour time... [Resultate, p. 1021]

>         Now, if my deduction holds (and the putting-out system 
> encompasses A), your premise above is faulty.

I agree that the putting-out system encompasses A, but not, in Marxian 
terms, that it thus involves formal SLC.

>  So, either you don't consider A as part of the putting out system or you 
> don't view it as formal subsumption. In either case (or both), it would 
> be interesting to know why.

Yep, the latter--see above.  I'll be interested to know what you think--you 
may recall that you're the one who got me involved in the study of the 
putting-out system in the first place, back in the original PEN-L Chapter 5 


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