[OPE-L:7466] RE: Simple commodity production and method/philosoph y

From: A.B.Trigg@open.ac.uk
Date: Thu Jul 25 2002 - 14:48:22 EDT

Many thanks for the prompt reply. You are concerned about simple commodity
production as an historical thing that might have existed, but I was
thinking of it more as a methodological starting point. As Ben Fine argues,
in Marx's Capital (p. 11), simple commodity production 'is more a logical
possibility than ever an historically realised dominant mode of production'.
I am taking this to mean something that we could logically think through in
order to start with a simple model, that has some of the characteristics of
capitalism, such as exchange and division of labour, but with no social
classes and no surplus value. If you accepted this as a logical possibility,
then prices would exchange at values, since there would be no surplus value
that had to be re-distributed. (As argued before the thinking through of
what capitalism is not, helps to understand and decompose the structrue of
what it is. This is a grand prize: the definition of capitalism. I am
thinking in terms of logical clarity; am not sure being buried in the
historical detail of American pioneers can get to this).

For all you Hegelians out there surely there is a defence of Marx's method
as building up the complexity from simple (logically possible)
underpinnings. Sraffa, I was reading, does this on the basis of
Wittgenstein, and even influenced his re-think. There is also the argument
that Marx gets this 'building up the complexity' approach from Aristotle.
Any thoughts from philosophers (of which I am not)?

You must of course know about the Catephores debate in the 1970s about
whether or not simple commodity production was an historical model of
production..I mention this in case it has been missed..I will check out your
suggested references, which is extremely useful.

Any comments welcomed.

Andrew (Trigg).

> >Rakesh.
> >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
> >reply.
> >
> >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 
> value.
> 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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