(OPE-L) Re: the intellectual origins of 'simple commodity production' ?

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Wed Sep 08 2004 - 12:15:19 EDT

Jurriaan, replying to Andrew T, wrote:

> Simple commodity production of itself
> implies nothing about class relations, and already existed historically
> prior to forms of society divided and stratified into social classes (i.e.
> also in tribal and early communal societies).

As a historical matter, I believe that the above is mistaken.  I.e.
commodity production did _not_ exist prior to the advent of class
societies.  This does not require a particular interpretation of Marx
on the meaning of 'commodity'.  Rather, if we simply take the more
commonly used definition (a product which is produced in order to
be sold) we can see that the emergence of the commodity
required the development of money and markets which did not exist in
pre-class societies.

I believe that the conceptual problem arises here because Jurriaan
has conflated 'product' with 'commodity'.   Thus, he wrote:

> (1) where the producer creates a product for  direct barter with his own
> work (or with his family or tribe), to obtain other goods and services.

In these societies where there was barter there was clearly production
but this does not mean that there was _commodity_ production
since the latter presupposes the advent of  _monetary_ exchange
and markets.

Jurriaan anticipates this criticism when he writes:

> You might object as regards to (1) that production for barter isn't
> commodity production at all, but bartered goods can have a use-value and
> an exchange-value like any other commodity, and if that wasn't the case,
> modern "counter-trade" could not take place at all (for more information
> on the  real scope of counter-trade, also known as offset-trade, see my
> PEN-L post  called "World money, countertrade and exchange relations",
> 22 February 2004).

To begin with,  bringing in 'counter-trade' etc. only obscures the issue
since we are not concerned here with the role of barter under capitalism but
rather the nature of barter in pre-capitalist  *non-class* societies prior
to the emergence of money, trade, and markets.  Within that historical
context,  barter was not the same as commodity exchange. (Indeed, I
should note parenthetically, that individual acts of barter do not even
require the exchange of labor _products_ since objects which are not
produced can be bartered).

The irony here is that Jurriaan has insisted on a particular interpretation
of  'commodity' because it makes from his perspective the most sense
historically, yet if we accept his interpretation then  virtually all
pre-capitalist production becomes commodity production,  virtually
all barter becomes commodity exchange,  virtually all products become
commodities, and the  'commodity' then appears as natural and eternal
rather than a reality  that was brought about by a historical process and
thru  _class_  struggle.

In solidarity, Jerry

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