[OPE-L:7471] Re: RE: Simple commodity production and method/philosoph y

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Thu Jul 25 2002 - 17:55:44 EDT

re Andrew T's 7466:

>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.

I accept  these production set ups as logical possibilities but I 
don't accept that in these production set ups--whether real or 
imagined--there are logical reasons why commodities would tend to 
sell at prices proportional to value--that is, the law of value would 
rule in direct form.  In other words,  there is no logical reason to 
believe that in a real case or idealized model of self proprietors or 
colonial settler peasantries, i.e, in the absence of social classes, 
there would be any compulsion to alienate commodities at values, much 
less transformed values (prices of production). This is Weeks' point.

(If I remember correctly, Heilbroner has a nice three or so part 
criticism of Adam Smith's idea that beaver-deer exchange by 
independent hunters would have tended to be at value.)

>  (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).

Yet if the definition (or specification or determination) of 
capitalism (which is of course not a description of what really 
exists) is the regulation of production by the law of value, then it 
is important to show that the law of value could not regulate 
production even tendentially in non capitalist modes of production, 
hypothetical or real. This is what Weeks has shown, I believe.

>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)?

Yes I look forward to conbributions from the philosophers.

>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..

It has been missed, and it will be checked. Thank you.

All the best, Rakesh

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