[OPE-L:7490] Re: Re: Reply to Rob Albritton by Gil Skillman

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Sat Aug 03 2002 - 06:27:54 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.

Your critique hasn't been careful, though I got lost in it.

    For Albritton, the question is not only  the extent to which 16th 
or 17th English agriculture was capitalist but also to the extent 
which it was not. You do not seem to share his interest in the latter 
question.  On the basis of a theory of pure capitalism in which the 
law of value holds full sway and criteria of fully commodified labor 
power in particular, he hopes to show in what ways agricultural labor 
was not fully commodified  in order to underpin his conclusion that 
English agriculture was more patriarchal and commercial rather than 
truly capitalist though he does not deny that there were in fact some 
nascent or proto capitalists in the English countryside in the period 
which Brenner is calling agrarian capitalism. Productivity growth 
does not mean for Albritton that agriculture was not characterized by 
patriarchal and commercial rather than truly capitalist features. 
What does Albritton mean by this contrast? Is it tenable? Do you 
speak to it? I don't think so at all.

In other words,  Albritton seems to think there is some connection 
between the rather incomplete commodification of agricultural labor 
and the patriarchal and commercial aspects of what has been 
mis-labelled agrarian capitalism.  Albritton also endeavors to show 
that the full commodification of labor power and thus truly 
capitalist relations were in fact more fully  achieved in woolen 
putting out mfg despite the craftsman's nominal ownership of the 
means of production.

Albritton is attempting to make an argument about which form of 
primitive capitalism--agricultural commodity production on the basis 
of servants in husbandry or the putting out system--was in fact more 
truly capitalist or pointed in that direction. Now while you raise 
legitimate questions indeed about the meaning of the law of value 
below and your interpretation of what Marx meant by formal 
subsumption is quite helpful, it does not seem to me that you have 
yet understood what Albritton is trying to say.  Which is why I 
recommended that you fwd your initial criticism based on similar mis 
reading to him. And I am not saying that he is right. I am just 
saying that more effort has to be made to understand why he is saying 
what he is saying. Because I have felt quite uncomfortable with your 
grasp of what is Albritton is saying and because I consider 
Albritton's work an important part of this community of scholars, I 
wanted your characterizations of his work--which have at no point 
been casual or sympathetic--submitted to him for his comment.

I'll respond to the rest later, and hope Albritton has something to 
say before that.

>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" anything?]
>>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 
>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.

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