Re: 'accumulation' proper v. 'primitive' or 'primary' or 'by dispossession'

From: Jurriaan Bendien (andromeda246@HETNET.NL)
Date: Tue May 11 2004 - 12:07:00 EDT

> "Marx's own text proves beyond any doubt"... uhm?  Reads like a dogmatism
> to me.  Anyway, if I thought "Capital" and Marx's total work does not have
> the specific social relations of the production in the capitalist mode of
> production as capital's basic meaning, I'd close up shop.

If you wish to accuse me of dogmatism, then prove your case, rather than
insinuate that I am being dogmatic. I think in fact that you are dogmatic,
because you just unquestioningly imitate a phrase from Marx about
"capital being a social relation", without specifying what it means,
whereas I have specified what it means, and have proved that this
particular formulation by Marx simply does not constitute a satisfactory
definition of capital by itself. I am saying that in order to illuminate
the socio-economic process of the formation and expansion of capital, Marx
is required to consider capital from different vantage points, different
and this results in multiple definitions and redefinitions of the meaning of
capital. I think you ought to "close up shop", because it's clear that there
a difference between "capital" and "the capitalist mode of production", and
Marx is perfectly explicit about that. The whole problem of the
of mercantile capital into industrial capital depends on the validity of
distinction. If capital is not a thing, you cannot privately own it, because
you cannot privately own a social relation, except in special cases. That
is really the problem with your confident assertion that "capital is a
relation and not a thing". Using your idea, it is not possible to correctly
understand modern imperialism and modern world capitalism, we do not
get beyond generalities, and we cannot measure anything to put things
in proportion.

> I don't remember Mark Jones; wasn't he Stalinist inclined?  If not, I'd
> apologize to his memory.  In any event, I'll just have to stand by myself.

Mark Jones was not a Stalinist, although sometimes he apologised unduly
for Stalin's policies, in the sense that he believed that brutal policies
were inevitable and necessary under the circumstances, even if the
evidence suggests other options existed, and could easily have been
taken. His argument was specifically that if we are serious about
wishing to create a socialist economy, we must realise that the Soviet
experiment revealed many important lessons in this regard, and that any
future socialist experiment would contain at least some features which were
pioneered in the former Soviet Union, because there is simply no
other way to do it. Thus, for example, he contended that a socialist
economy would in some respects be unavoidably less efficient
or less effective than a capitalist economy,
but that this did not matter, either because of efficiency gains elsewhere,
or because some human values were more important than technical
efficiency. His argument was, that if we do not regard the USSR as
having been "some kind of socialism", then we reduce
the project of realising a socialist society in the context of imperialist
aggression to a dreamy, unrealistic utopianism. That is to say,
if we wish to brush off terrible things happening in the former
USSR just by saying that "oh well, it wasn't socialist" or "it was state
capitalist" or something like that, then we're just being facile and
shallow, and we do not understand what is really involved in this
project, we are just pursuing a logic of justification (ideology)
rather than a logic of discovery (science). In other words,
we are advancing a general moral argument of dubious value,
while ignoring what is actually required, practically speaking,
to build a real socialist economy. I think Mark Jones's argument
has merit, although I strongly disagreed with him about
particular issues, principally because he transposes theories
which the working class accepted in the 1930s to the way
the working class is now. The underlying problem Mark Jones
grappled with is the specification of human morality, such as
it is implicit in capitalism, and such as it would assert itself
in socialism. That is, Marxism lacked a specific theory of
distributive justice as a foundation for socialist economy, and
it was thought that either the working class just spontaneously
generates and implements such a theory, or the party leadership
knows what is best. This caused an oscillation between
absolute principles which seemed oppressive
to many, and a relativistic refusal to articulate a morality on
the ground that to do so would be to moralise.

> If "capital is a thing by virtue of a social relation", then is not the
> basis of capital that social relation (even if I cannot go along with
> capital being a "thing")?

You could say that, yes. But you cannot simultaneously say that the social
is "the basis of capital" and also that it IS capital. That does not make
at least not for a true scholar. To repeat, you cannot privately own a
relation, but you can privately own capital. And if you privately own
then you can control and shape that social relation because the ownership
of that capital enables the assertion of social power. But if you assert
capital is not a thing but a social relation, people will happily grab the
from you and leave you grappling with the social relation.
> First, labor POWER is bought, not labor.  Second, $ or euros do not buy
> (or fire) labor power, capitalists do.  $ or euros are simply pieces of
> paper, finely crafted by workers.

That is not in dispute, except that in some cases of service labor, it is
actual labor which is bought. It depends in part on the legal construction
to define property rights, and property rights are part of the fulcrum of
class struggles today. If a capitalist operates with slave labor, he does
buy labor capacity. What you have then, is a form of subordination whereby
a capitalist mode of production functions on the basis of slave labor, not
free workers selling their labour-capacity. But Marx argues the
natural tendency of capitalist development is towards the
sale of labor-power, not labor or laborers. He says this specifically,
because contrary to a popular Marxist myth, capitalism can operate
with various forms of labor, ranging from slavery to indentured
labor to free wage labor compensated in cash or in kind. Marxists
think of capitalism simply in terms of free wage labor, but for a
scientific historian or social scientist, this is just nonsense, both
because of the different ways in which surplus-labour is appropriated
by owners of capital,

> You seem to regard 'value' itself as a thing, like a neutron.

No. Value is an attribute of objects in virtue of a double relationship:
between people, and between people and things. This is clarified
very well by I.I. Rubin in his book Marx's Theory of Value.
If there were no people who had to work, there would be no
economic value. But given that there are people forced to
work to survive, there is value, and within
society this value is lodged in objects independently of the consciousness
of particular individuals, who may not even agree what something is
worth. But trade does not crucially depend on people knowing
what the value of traded objects is; an objective value exists
the magnitude of which may be misperceived by the trading
parties. That is, value has become objectified, and because it has
become objectified, things can dominate people. The substance
of value is socially necessary labour-time, and this being the case,
value pre-exists exchange. Your statements are not supported with
any cogent argument, it is in my opinion equivalent to an
alchemist talking about phlogiston.

> Yours seems to be a sociological definition of 'social relation'.  I don't
> know why this would be "correctly defined" within Marxism.

No, this is another unsupported allegation. I am providing a general
or transhistorical definition of the meaning of a "social relation". In
we can define the meaning of a relation in the last instance only by
reference to the general and the particular, i.e. the universal and
a specific instance of the universal which it contains. Another way
of saying this is, that we cannot logically define specificity without
reference to something more general. In mathematics, the concept
of bijection is used to help define numerical sets, counting units
and their relations. In social science, we refer to general
(transhistorical) categories and specific (historical) categories,
incorporating not just quantities but also qualities.
When Marx seeks to abstract and specify the defining
characteristics of capitalism, he must both (1) distinguish
capitalism from other types of economy, and simultaneously
(2) abstract from different kinds of specific capitalisms such as they
actually exist in specific countries to reveal what they all have
in common. In order to do this, he is logically committed to:

(1) a general concept of what a "social relation" is
(2) a general concept of what a "social relation of production" is
(3) a specific concept of "capitalist social relations"
(4) a specific concept of "capitalist social relations of production"
(5) a differentiation between "capitalist relations in general" and
a specific expression of those relations in a given place and time.

All of this is just ABC, and I do not understand why it should be
the cause for derision and polemic. I will desist for now and
concentrate on other topics. I do not wish to go endlessly
over the same thing. If you always do the same thing, you
always get the same result, and that becomes ineffectual.


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