[OPE-L:7452] Re: Formal subsumption and putting-out

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Wed Jul 24 2002 - 05:04:05 EDT

re gil's 7449

>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]

Marx did speak of the revolutionary role merchant capital could play 
in the establishment of capitalism proper. I think Sweezy is right 
about this revolutionary potential of merchant capital in the old 
debate with Dobb. This revolutionary path seems to lie in merchants 
reorganizing the putting out system for the purposes of direct 
control over the production process, described by Alavi thusly:

>By contrast, in the 'putting out system' the entrepreneur took the 
>raw materials round to the weavers, from door to door, and collected 
>the finished cloth. He soon realised that instead of going from door 
>to door, he could simplify his task by bringing all his weavers 
>under one roof. That gave rise to the factory system which, in turn, 
>led to mechanisation and a transition to the Industrial Revolution. 
>That dynamic was absent given the financial organisation of 
>production in India.

But all this has been eclipsed by the Dobb tradition in which the 
"virtual identity" (as Jairus refers to it) between capitalist 
relations of production and formal wage labor is simply asserted and 
the origins of capitalism is thereby given in practical terms  the 
single center of the English countryside.


>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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