[OPE-L:7449] Formal subsumption and putting-out

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Tue Jul 23 2002 - 18:46:46 EDT

[Was: curses!]

Mike writes:

>At 05:41 PM 7/22/2002 -0400, you wrote:
>>Hi, Mike, it's good to hear from you--How are things on Lasqueti?
>terrible, gil--- the screen on my laptop is disintegrating infinitely more 
>rapidly than capitalism, and I will be unable to communicate after this 
>note until I resolve the problem (likely involving leaving the island).

What a pain.  Don't worry, this can wait until you're up and running 
again.  Meanwhile, though, I'd like to clarify where I'm coming from in 
this particular discussion and add some food for thought in responding to 
the following:

>    Suffice it to say that we disagree on the definition of formal 
> subsumption; for you, it appears that real monitoring is a necessary 
> condition whereas I would see the right to monitor as sufficient-- i.e., 
> a question of property rights. In support of my interpretation of formal 
> subsumption, see the Grundrisse (vintage), p.510.

I should make clear at the start that my primary goal in this discussion is 
not to criticize any argument of Marx's (unlike in the Chapter 5 
discussion), but rather to ascertain what his actual position is.  Thus I 
want to emphasize that it isn't "for me" that actual monitoring of workers 
in the labor process is the distinguishing feature of formal subsumption, 
but for Marx, who explicitly states, in the passages I cited in the 
previous post, both this point and that the putting out system (i.e., the 
framework corresponding to your scenario A) *does not* constitute a case of 
formal subsumption.  But I remain open to any textual evidence that Marx 
meant something else by the term than what was indicated in the passages 
that I quoted from him.

Now, on the passage you cited.  First, as you'll see from my reply to John 
Milios, I think the economic logic undergirding this passage is suspect at 
best, and believe that Marx largely drops this "dependency" (i.e., 
monopsony) interpretation of increasing capitalist control of production in 
his economic writings after the Grundrisse.

But second, and more to the point, as I understand it *no* passage in 
Grundrisse, let alone this particular one, can possibly be taken to speak 
to the issue of what *Marx* meant by "formal subsumption of labor under 
capital," since Marx did not introduce this analytical distinction until 
the Economic Manuscript of 1861-63, 3 years after he finished the 
Grundrisse notebooks.  The notions of formal and real subsumption of labor 
under capital are thus nowhere to be found in the Grundrisse.

As far as I know, Marx first introduces the notion of "formal subsumption" 
early on in the EM 61-63 in the following passage:

"This *formal* subsumption of the labour process, the assumption of control 
over it by capital, consists in the worker's subjection as worker to the 
supervision and therefore to the command of capital or the 
capitalist."  [Marx-Engels Collected Works, V. 30, p93]

This definition of formal subsumption is then consistently maintained in 
other passages discussing the phenomenon in the Ec Mss 61-63 and the 
Resultate, from which I quoted in my previous post.  So far, Marx never 
contradicts his initial stipulation that formal subsumption involves direct 
capitalist supervision over the production process.  To the contrary, he 
associates this new form of worker subordination with the achievement of 
*absolute* surplus value relative to the surplus value that exists under 
preceding forms of the circuit of capital, associated with the greater 
continuity and scale of labor performed under capitalist supervision.

As a corollary, Marx repeatedly asserts that the rural 
handicraft/buyer-up/putter-out relation *did not* constitute an instance of 
formal subsumption of labor under capital.  Besides the passage from the 
Resultate that says just that, quoted in my previous post, also see these 
passages from the EM 61-63:  [Marx-Engels CW, V. 30, p. 270; V. 34, pp. 96, 
117-19, 144]

And finally, Marx maintains this distinction in Volume I of Capital:

"It will be sufficient if we merely refer to certain hybrid forms, in 
which...the producer has not yet become formally subordinate to 
capital.  In these forms, capital has not yet acquired a direct control 
over the labour process.  Alongside the independent producers, who carry on 
their handicrafts or their agriculture in the inherited, traditional way, 
there steps the usurer or merchant with his usurer's or merchant's capital, 
which feeds on them like a parasite."  [p. 645, Penguin]

Note I'm not suggesting that you don't have a more economically coherent 
notion of "formal subsumption" than Marx.  Perhaps you do, and that would 
be an interesting line to pursue.  But in any case, it does not appear to 
be *Marx's* conception of the term.


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