From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Sun Jun 06 2004 - 03:30:10 EDT
Costas asks, “What exactly prevented him [Marx], for instance, from stating unequivocally whether he is talking about capitalist exchange or about commodity exchange across history?” I think the answer to this is that he would have been pretty much dumbfounded at the suggestion that he was not talking about commodity exchange across history. I’ve just spent a bit of time reviewing summarily the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and the Chapter on Money in the Grundrisse. I also reviewed some stuff in Capital, but not the chapter on Money from which quotes are taken in the recent post to the list forwarded by Jerry called Cattle as Commodity and Money. It passes understanding to imagine how anyone can review these materials and not suppose that Marx is talking about commodity exchange across history. His research reaches to the ancient world and to every continent. He uses the words ‘value’ and ‘commodity’ and ‘money’ constantly and he mixes theoretical elaboration with historical examples. When he speaks of the ancient world he never suggests he’s dealing with something different. He never says, I use the word “commodity” here, but I really don’t mean it because value requires the buying and selling of labor power. I have a list of quotes. I’ll give a few examples, but it would be tedious to trot them all out. For me this raises the question how the view could have taken such firm hold theoretically that value doesn’t exist where there’s not the buying and selling of labor power and that value didn’t exist in pre-capitalist economic formations. I understand one source. Contemporary Hegelian readings of Capital insist that the result is presupposed by the starting point and therefore the concept of value presented in the first Chapter of Capital couldn’t be present in any social totality that did not involve capital. I know where to find this argument. But I’m unclear as to what other sources of theoretical justification might be. Costas has suggested that you don’t have value where you don’t have the operation of the law of value and this takes abstract labor which takes capitalist production, if I understood him correctly. I’m not clear on the details of this argument or where to find it elaborated. Are there other lines of theoretical argument on this score? As a matter of recent intellectual history does anybody have a fix on how this theoretical conviction took hold? Here are some examples that seem significant to me – also, notice the explicit references to value and commodities in pre-capitalist economic formations in the posts Jerry has forwarded to the list: CONTRIBUTION TO THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY: v.29 at 380, NW 148: “just as in the ancient Roman Republic at an early stage of its history experienced a reverse revolution caused by a rise in the value of copper.” NW 153, v29 at 385: “The question why gold and silver, and not other commodities are used as the material of money lies outside the confines of the bourgeois system.” NW 156, v29 at 387: “The purely economic reasons of such changes in value – conquests and other political upheavals, which exerted a substantial influence on the value of metals in antiquity, have merely a local and temporary effect – must be attributed to changes in the labour-time required for the production of these metals.” same page, “the value of silver is therefore originally higher than that of gold . . . “ GRUNDRISSE: v. 28, 80; peng. 142: “In the most primitive barter trade, when two commodities are exchanged for one another, each is first equated to a figure that expresses its exchange value . . . .” Also, this: v. 28, 140; peng. 204-205: “With barter, however, the product is exchange value only in itself; it is its first phenomenal form; but the product is not yet posited as exchange value. Firstly, this character does not dominate production as a whole . . . Barter in its crudest form presupposes labour as substance and labour time as the measure of commodities . . . “ v. 28 at 84; peng. 146: “The need for exchange and the transformation of the product into pure exchange value progresses in the same measure as the division of labour . . . “ v. 28 at 131, 196: “Circulation as the realization of exchange values implies (1) that my product is a product only in so far as it is a product for others, in other words, transcended individuality, generality; (2) that it is a product for me only in so far as it has been alienated, has become a product for others; (3) that it is a product for the other person only in so far as he alienates his own product. This in turn implies (4) that production appears for me as an end in itself, not a means.” The passage immediately above seems to me especially significant. It offers a summary of what is required for circulation as the realization of exchange value – notice that the buying and selling of labor power is NOT one of the things required. CAPITAL: 166: “So, too, the economic categories, already discussed by us, bear the stamp of history. Definite historical conditions are necessary that a product may become a commodity. It must not be produced as the immediate means of subsistence of the producer himself. Had we gone further, and inqujired under what circumstances all, or even the majority of products take the form of commodities, we should have found that this can only happen with production of a very specific kind, capitalist production. Such an inquiry, however, would have been foreign to the analyses of commodities. Production and circulation of commodities can take place, although the great mass of the objects produced are intended for the immediate requirements of their producers, are not turned into commodities, and consequently social production is not yet by a long way dominated in its length and breadth by exchange value. The appearance of products as commodities pre-supposes such a development of the social division of labour, that the separation of value from excdhange value, a separation which first begins with barter, must already have been completed. But such a degree of development is common to many forms of society, which in other respects present the most varying historical features.” etc. Maybe a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is one from the CONTRIBUTION TO THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY v.29 at 387, NW 155: “In the year 760 a crowd of poor people turned out to wash gold from the sand of the river south of Prague, and three men were able in a day to extract a mark [half a pound] of gold; and so great was the consequent rush to ‘the diggings’ and the number of hands attracted from agriculture so great, that in the next year the country was visited by famine.” Now we can reflect on this a minute theoretically: what people are after is value, a claim on other people’s labor in the form of the universal equivalent. There is a moral to the story: value has causal consequences!
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