[OPE-L:7475] Re: Re: Re: Formal subsumption and putting-out

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Mon Jul 29 2002 - 02:46:36 EDT

In 7455 Gil expressed agreement with me which I would like to reinforce

>Rakesh writes
>>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 
>>>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.
>I agree with this characterization, for reasons given below, but it 
>is interesting to contrast this with Marx's own take on the 
>"revolutionary path" from the feudal mode of production:
>"The transition from the feudal mode of production takes place in 
>two different ways.  The producer may become a merchant and 
>capitalist, in contrast to the agricultural natural economy and the 
>guild-bound handicraft of medieval urban industry.  This is the 
>really revolutionary way.Alternatively, however, the merchant may 
>take direct control of production himself."  [KIII, p. 452, Penguin]
>The reason I agree with Rakesh and Alavi's characterization is that 
>feudal commodity producers, say  guild masters or rural 
>handicraftspeople, were used to producing for the ultimate sake of 
>use value, and thus weren't spurred by the prospect of making 
>profit.  Not so merchant capitalists, whose interest in reaping 
>(greater) profit led them to the putting-out arrangements of 
>commodity producers in the first place.

Reviewing the literature, I am surprised by how many Marxists have 
not understood Sweezy's and Alavi's correct interpretation of the 
passage Gil cites (for Sweezy's  correct interpretation, see The 
Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, ed. Rodney Hilton, pp. 
54-55; Dobb does not put up much of a defense of his rival 
interpretation on pg. 64).

I think John Weeks, TJ Byres, Charles Post, Colin Mooers, Ellen Wood 
and many others have misinterpreted what Marx is saying here. Marx is 
NOT comparing the conservative merchant in control of the putting out 
system to the putatively revolutionary petty (guild bound) proprietor 
or supposedly revolutionary handicraft producer who becomes a 
capitalist at a snail's pace. As suggested in Alavi, Marx is simply 
differentiating the putting out system from a system in which the 
merchant brings the handicraft producers under one roof and thus 
begins to act as a capitalist who has formally subsumed the labor 
process.  The latter is what he is calling the revolutionary path: 
such formal subsumption points in the direction of cooperative labor, 
manufacture and the factory. What Marx sees as non revolutionary is a 
merchant who does not reorganize the old ways of working as in the 
Verlag system: "In reality he was simply a merchant, who kept the 
ONLY AS A MERCHANT" (Capital 3, p. 452; emphasis mine)

  Marx clearly thinks merchant capital can and did play a 
revolutionary role if it acted as Alvai lays out above. To the quotes 
to which Sweezy points, one can add clear references in the Resultate 
to Marx's belief in the revolutionary role played by merchants in the 
rise of the capitalist system. Which of course is not to say Marx's 
historic judgement has proven to be correct.

I am quite

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