[OPE-L:7487] Re: Reply to Rob Albritton by Gil Skillman

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Fri Aug 02 2002 - 16:32:55 EDT

Rakesh writes:

>Hi Gil,
>hmmm. a rather lengthy reply to Albritton's relatively brief post. Doesn't 
>seem your speech was so easily chilled after all!  I hope that the length 
>of your reply does not chill Albritton's speech...

Rob could afford to be relatively brief because he could refer, in this 
context, to arguments he'd already published, whereas I had to establish 
the basis for my arguments from the ground up.  If I had written a 
significantly shorter response, you'd now be writing to say that I hadn't 
addressed Rob's arguments completely.

The chilling effect I referred to will arise in *future* discussions, when 
in making even the most brief comments about someone else's work, I and 
others on the list who have the temerity to disagree with your 
understanding of Marx will have to wonder if you're going to tattle on us 
and force a serious subsequent exchange in defense of even casual 
remarks.   And if I were Rob, I'd be somewhat put off by your suggestion 
that a carefully constructed critique of my work would have a chilling 
effect on my speech.

Now you write

>I'll just stay at the beginning
>>In virtually all of these passages, Marx emphasizes that although these 
>>circuits of capital yielded surplus value, they did not involve even 
>>formal subsumption of labor under capital.
>Let us not talk about the conditions in which the circuit of capital can 
>yield surplus value but rather the conditions in which the law of value 
>comes to regulate production and exchange. I think Albritton is concerned 
>about the latter. You of course are concerned about the former.

It might have been more appropriate for you to start at the end rather than 
the beginning, since you're committing here the same fallacy I impute to 
Rob's argument, that of imposing a condition relevant to the *developed* 
form of capitalism in assessing a characterization of the *primitive* stage 
of capitalism.  I explained my grounds for endorsing Brenner's use of 
"agrarian capitalism" to describe the era of English agriculture in 
question (that's part of the reason my reply needed to be so long).  On 
what grounds do you insist that a *defining* characteristic of even nascent 
capitalism must be that "the law of value [whatever that is] regulates 
production and exchange [whatever that means]"?

>What is meant by regulation by the law of value?

[Perhaps more basically, isn't this phrase redundant?  What could it 
possibly mean to speak of the "law" of value if value didn't "regulate" 

>I am not sure, but perhaps these are three possible meanings.
>i. capitalists sufficiently indifferent to use value that capital will be 
>shifted to where it yields the greatest possible surplus value (Albritton 
>emphasizes this).
>ii. the tendential ability to realize prices of production becomes a 
>condition of supply (Mattick Jr underlines this).
>iii. social relations are mediated through commodities: society is in 
>accordance with the commodity principle (again see Albritton). (For 
>example, let us assume that we are on the free wage island, the commodity 
>principle would not hold if workers were to form direct cooperative 
>relations with each other and then borrow inputs from banks or merchants 
>which in effect guaranteed the appropriation of surplus value; unions 
>would also seem to interfere with the commodity principle).

The striking thing about these alternatives is that no reference whatsoever 
need be made to labor values, or concepts constructed on the basis of labor 
values, in order to assert or understand their substance.  For instance, 
"profit" or "rate of return" could be substituted for "surplus value" in 
alternative (i) and the sense of the statement would be maintained and its 
accuracy improved (since capitalists care about profit, and it's possible 
for profit to vary even if surplus value doesn't).  Tendential realization 
of prices of production (in alternative (ii)) can be coherently understood 
without any reference to labor values.  Ditto the notion of "social 
relations" being "mediated through commodities" in alternative (iii).

>Now it seems that Albritton believes that for conditions i and ii to be 
>met, (a) wage labor has to be doubly free and (b) capital mobility more or 
>less achieved. I have questioned (a).

As have I.

>Without (b) there could of course not even be the formation of the very 
>average rate of profit which is held to be a condition of supply 
>(Albritton notes that capital markets were too undeveloped for there to 
>have been the formation of an average rate of profit in the period Brenner 
>calls agrarian capitalism which thus could not have been regulated by the 
>law of value).

I don't see why capital mobility is required for the "formation of 
the...average rate of profit."  Such an *average* can be determined even if 
profit rates vary significantly across sectors.  Next, I don't understand 
the sense in which this is "a condition of supply";  even if my capital is 
immobile, I might still supply in a given sector--e.g., here, the 
agricultural sector.  And again, I don't understand the grounds for the 
suggestion that "regulation by the law of value" must be a defining feature 
of even *nascent* capitalism.  In the passages from V. III noted by Rob 
(and the passage from the Resultate I cited), Marx allows for the existence 
of frictions--in real-world *capitalism*--that prevent the fulfillment of 
at least conditions (i) and (ii).

>Weeks adds that condition ii will not be realized without more or less 
>full monetization of the inputs.
>It seems to me that Albritton is saying that when conditions i-iii are met 
>we have a pure, competitive capitalism which of course never exists in 
>history but can be analyzed by means of a thought experiment for its laws 
>of motion. Albritton seems to think however that mid 19th century England 
>best approximated pure capitalism.

And my response to Rob is that his notion of "pure, competitive capitalism" 
is a vision of capitalism at its most fully developed stage, which is 
irrelevant to an assessment of what constitutes capitalism at its most 
primitive stage.  It's simply the wrong yardstick to apply in assessing the 
latter condition.

>The problem then becomes one of connecting levels of abstraction; 
>Albritton gives three: pure theory, stage analysis, conjunctural analysis.

He champions the first level of abstraction in his 1993 article for the 
purpose of criticizing Brenner, which choice I criticize along the lines 
indicated above.

>It seems that Albritton is arguing that Marx's *Capital* was meant to stay 
>at the first level of abstraction but there are very damaging confusions 
>of levels of abstraction in his analysis.


>Since the Uno-Sekine-Albritton interpretation of the methodology of 
>*Capital* is one of the major schools of Marxian thought, I would like for 
>us to get what they are saying more or less right.

Go ahead; it doesn't affect the substance of my critique of Rob's 1993 article.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat Aug 24 2002 - 00:00:03 EDT