[OPE-L:7465] Simple commodity production

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Thu Jul 25 2002 - 14:02:35 EDT

re Andrew T's 7464:

>Though an ope-l user I have missed this discussion about C-M-C. To pick up
>on Chris Arthur, Marth Campell, Fred Mosely' s arguments that it is
>capitalist, do I need to look at old ope-L files, or is it in their (your,
>if your reading) published writings. I would like to study these and make a
>Just off the cuff, I am sympathetic with Gil's argument that Marx does have
>a method of starting out with simple (unrealistic assumptions), like the one
>that prices=values. Simple reproduction is another stage in the complexity.I
>can't understand why you are frightened of simpe commodity production.

Not frightened. Just don't think law of value in direct form (that is 
prices tending to be proportional to values) would have regulated 
simple or petty commodity  production (self proprietorship) to the 
limited extent that it existed historically. This is an Engels-Meek 
fantasy which has been effectively criticized in my opinion by Weeks. 
Assume those engaged in simple commodity production are patriarchal 
agrarian households. As Weeks argues (Capital and Exploitation, pp. 
37ff), there would be no compulsion for such units to alienate 
commodities at value and thereby realize the surplus labor embodied 
therein. First, the basis for accumulation which could result from 
the capitalisation of potentially realized surplus value is severely 
limited by the size of the family.  Second, failure to sell at value 
would not jeopardize the reproduction of the largely self-supplying 
natural unit. It is exactly because simple or  petty commodity 
producers or colonial settler peasantries are not regulated by the 
law of value in any form and thus willing to market physical 
surpluses at arbitrary prices that they pose a threat to the 
development of capitalism which alone is regulated by the law of 

I have quoted this passage a couple of times before:

"Two different aspects must be distinguished here.

First, There are the colonies proper, such as in the US, Australia, 
etc.Here the mass of the farming colonists, although they bring with 
them a larger or smaller amount of capital from the motherland, are 
not *capitalists*, nor do they carry on capitalist production. They 
are are more or less peasants who work themselves and whose main 
object, in the first place, is to produce *their own livlihood, their 
means of subsistence. Their main product does not become a 
*commodity*, and is not intended for trade. They sell or exchange the 
excess of their product over their own consumption for imported mgf 
commodities, etc. The other, smaller section of the colonists who 
settler near the sea, navigable rivers, etc. form trading towns. 
There is no question of capitalist here either. Even if capitalist 
production gradually comes into being, so that the sale of his 
products and the profit he makes from this sale become decisive for 
the farmer who himself works and owns his land: so long, as 
comparedwith capital and labour, land still exists in elemental 
abundance providing a practically unlimited field of action, the 
first type of colonisation will continue as well and production will 
therefore *never* be regualted according to the needs of the 
market--at a given market value. Everything the colonists of the 
first type produce *over and above* their immediate consumption, they 
will throw on the market and sell at any price that will bring in 
more than their wages. They are, and continue for a long time to be, 
competitors of the farmers who are already producing more or less 
capitalistically, and thus keep the market price of the agricultural 
product *below* its value...

"In the second type of colonies--plantations--where commercial 
speculations figure from the start  and production is intended for 
the world market, the capitalist mode of production exists, although 
only in a formal sense, since the slavery of Negroes precludes free 
wage labour,which is the basis of capitalist production. But the 
business in which slaves are used is conducted by *capitalists*. The 
method of production, which they introduce has not arised out of 
slavery but is grafted on to it. In this case the same person is 
capitaist and landowner. And the *elemental* [profusion] existence of 
the land confronting capital and labour does not offer any resistance 
to capital investment, hence none to the competition between 
capitals. Neither does a class of farmers as distinct from landlords 
develop here. So long as these conditions endure, nothing will stand 
in the way of cost price [by which we understand price of 
production--rb] regulating market value."

TSV, part II Moscow, pp. 301-3

>  Thuis
>seems to be extremely useful in defining what capitalism is and isn't. Why
>does it have to be capitalist? Its difficult to see on the email where you
>are coming from.

So as I understand Marx the law of value does not regulate pre 
capitalist modes of production--in particular petty commodity 
production the historical existence of which is questionable--in some 
simple, direct or unmediated form while an indirect form of the law 
of value (i.e., prices of production) regulates capitalist 
production. It is of course possible that in early capitalism the law 
of value operated less indirectly than it would as capitalism 
developed. But this is a different claim than a direct law of value 
regulated pre capitalist petty commodity production. I think Marx 
makes the first claim; Engels the second. Marx may be right; Engels 
seems not to be.

That is, the law of value has only ever regulated production in an 
indirect form. Adam Smith on the other hand recognized the regulatory 
power of the law of value only in the direct form of beaver-deer 
exchanges in pre capitalist modes of production.

As for Martha Campbell's piece, I had in mind the one in Heilbroner 
festschrift, ed. Ron Blackwell (I believe). One version of Chris A's 
piece is in Riccardo B's ed. two volumes on Marxian Economics. I was 
referring to comments Fred has made on list sometime in the last 
seven years. I think all four (including Riccardo)  are somewhere in 
Italy, preparing their next volume on Marx.

All the best, Rakesh

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