Re: [OPE-L:8609] From Ian Wright on Weeks and Simple Commodity Production

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@T-ONLINE.DE)
Date: Fri May 16 2003 - 06:11:59 EDT

Cologne 16-May-2003


Ian Wright schrieb Thu, 15 May 2003 18:50:54 +0000:

> Hello Rakesh,
> Your raise three issues:
> (a) the historical existence of something like a simple commodity economy,
> (b) the logical coherence of a simple commodity economy, and
> (c) some remarks on innovation of the relations of production.
> My quick answer is:
> (a) I think it probable that the conditions for the law of value to be
> causally efficacious were (weakly) satisfied prior to modern capitalism;
> (b) the simple commodity economy is logically coherent.
> The longer reply:
> (a) Historical existence of a simple commodity economy
> >One could say (as Cohen does) that generalized simple commodity production
> >is not a viable social form as it would soon break down into a two class
> >sytem.
> It would break-down if there were a pool of workers to employ.
> But that doesn't imply that it would break-down "soon". For example,
> the guilds of the middle-ages tried to limit the number of labourers
> employed by rich masters. Such superstructural brakes on the emergence
> of a new class may cause the process of transformation to be extended.
> So I do not agree with Cohen if he is really saying that an SCE could
> not have existed for any appreciable length of time.
> >Or, one could say that it would never have been rational to become
> >dependent on the production of commodities unless the market had the depth
> >which only results from  workers having to buy commodities for their
> >subsistence, i.e., unless workers are not independent proprietors
> >or peasants or, in other words, unless they are alienated from the
> >objective conditions of production.
> Prior to generalised wage-capital relations there have been local situations
> characterised by mutual interdependence and commerce, with money, markets
> and goods, particularly in big cities. In such instances there is a local
> social division of labour. For the law of value to be causally efficacious
> (i.e., influence or regulate, although of course not determine, the division
> of labour) a small number of weak conditions need be met, basically
> a market, frequent exchange activity, and an ability to adapt supply to
> demand.
> These conditions have been met prior to capitalism. I do not think whether
> the market participants are wholly dependent on the labour of others is
> decisive. The dependence can be partial. Conversely, these conditions
> are more fully met in developed capitalism, particularly in terms of
> complete dependence on the labour of others, the existence of a pool
> of wage-labourers, the complete monetization of social relations etc. So I
> concur that the law of value has developed furthest under capitalist
> conditions, and prior emergences have probably been partial, weak,
> distorted,
> temporary etc.
> But I am not an expert in the history of economic formations, so I am
> all ears. All I can contribute here is the identification of sufficient
> conditions for the law of value to operate.
> (b) Logical coherence of the simple commodity economy
> >I follow OPE-L'er Martha Campbell in believing that Marx's focus was from
> >the begininning not on the commodity as an independent existent alienated
> >from any particular whole or social formation and certainly not on the
> >commodity as a product in a system of generalized simple commodity
> >production but on the commodity as a part of the totality of generalized
> >commodity production based on proletarian labor.
> Yes, his object of study was capitalism. But, irrespective of the historical
> status of the SCE, Marx does employ abstract models of capitalism, determine
> their limitations, and then extend them. For example, in Capital he
> initially
> considers a situation of private commodity producers, without workers or
> capitalists. He deduces that if total money is fixed and exchange is money
> conserving then total profits are zero and therefore cannot arise from
> circulation. This deduction motivates the introduction of an extended model
> with a new social relationship, that between workers and capitalists.
> To make such a deduction Marx must have thought that a SCE was a logically
> coherent concept.

Hi Ian,

SCP takes me back to 1977.

It is highly disputable whether Marx ever employed an "abstract model" in his
thinking. He claims instead a "dialectical development" of concepts moving from
the most abstract to the most concrete.

Furthermore, what you here designate as "simple commodity production" is called
by Marx "simple commodity circulation" (einfache Warenzirkulation), i.e. the
level of abstraction preceding the transition to money as capital. The term
"simple commodity production" was coined not by Marx but by Engels when trying
to historicize the "dialectical development" to make it "logico-historical".
(Hans-Georg Backhaus is good in destructing these Engelsian notions and putting
them into relation with Marx's thinking, cf. 'Om forholdet mellem der "logiske"
og det "historiske" i Marx' kritik af den politiske oekonomi' in Kurasje Nr.
27/28 1981.)

The model-building way of thinking is modern-day speak for the Cartesian casting
of scientific thinking in which beings are what they are as representations in
consciousness, given by data preferably schematized as magnitudes that make them
(the data and thus the beings) amenable to mathematical manipulation.

Hegel on the abstraction of his dialectical logic:
"Logic is the _most difficult_ science insofar as it does not have to do with
intuitions (Anschauungen), not even like geometry has to do with abstract
sensuous representations (abstrakten sinnlichen Vorstellungen), but with pure
abstractions and [thus insofar as it] demands a power and practisedness (Kraft
und Geuebtheit) to withdraw into the pure thought, to hold onto it and to move
within it." (Enzyk. I Vorbegriff Section 19).

I already hear the objection, "Yes, but that's idealist". To which the reply is:
Is Historical Materialism clear about the nature of its own thinking? Or does it
try to get by without thinking on it?

_-_-_-_-_-_-_-  artefact text and translation _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_- made by art  _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ _-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

> I follow this approach: I initially consider a simple model, the SCE,
> deduce its properties, and then (when opportunity allows) extend it.
> The abstraction of the SCE is a necessary part of a process of scientific
> modelling, just as the theory of a perfect gas serves as a foundation for
> the theory of actual gases. Telling physicists that no actual gas is
> composed of homogenous molecules with perfect elasticity is redundant --
> they already know that.
> (c) Remarks on innovation of the relations of production
> My apologies for not responding to all your observations (I of course
> agree that capitalist social relations introduce ontological novelty,
> or put more simply, new things happen).
> >Also, to the extent that Marx is studying the properties of a pure
> >bourgeois society, this raises the quasi Althusserian question of the
> >nature of the object Marx has brought into being through his theoretical
> >effort.
> The object Marx has brought into being is a natural language specification
> of a causal structure, and various deductions from that. Basically he wrote
> a book. That specification is intended to refer to real casual mechanisms
> at work in society, mechanisms that are not immediately apparent to the
> senses,
> and require further scientific work to fully comprehend.
> I must confess to ignorance about the authors you mention in relation to
> Cohen. If you could tell me in a sentence or two whom I should read and why
> that would be a great help to me.
> -Ian.

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