(OPE-L) [Jurriaan's] Reply on simple commodity production

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu Sep 09 2004 - 08:06:06 EDT

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------
Subject: Reply on simple commodity production
From:    "Jurriaan Bendien" <andromeda246@hetnet.nl>
Date:    Thu, September 9, 2004 7:03 am

Hi Jerry,

You argue that commodity production did NOT exist prior to the advent of
class societies, and you define simple commodity production as production
of a product which is produced in order to be sold for money. If you adopt
that definition, then obviously my argument must be wrong, since, in that
case, simple commodity production presupposes monetary exchange. You also
argue that I have conflated  'product' with 'commodity', and that if my
interpretation is accepted "then  virtually all pre-capitalist production
becomes commodity production",  and "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".

I don't really think that accusation is valid at all. First of all, simple
commodity production is not "production of a product which is produced in
order to be sold for money" as you claim, because that definition applies
to most kinds of commodity production in a cash economy. What is specific
to simple commodity production is, that it is production and exchange of a
product by the producer himself or by a household, without hiring
wage-labor, for example by craftsmen, hunters & gatherers, or artisans.

Because, as I have said, there are various possible gradations of
integration of simple commodity production into a market, simple commodity
production could also combine with with subsistence production of
use-values. For example, in "Saqqaq: An Inuit Hunting Community in the
Modern World", the Danish anthropologist Jens Dahl describes the hunting
mode of production of eskimo's  in Western Greenland. This mode of
production is based on the centrality of the household unit, individual
control of the hunting process, collective networks of exchange, and open
access to hunting grounds. Family members pool their assets and labor.
Production is partly aimed for the market, but what motivates producers is
not primarily profit, but rather social responsibilities, local
commitments, and kinship relations. Dahl observes, "it is not the cash
motivation, but the significance of meat and the role of the hunter as
provider that explain why people go sealing" (p. 215). Simple commodity
production is occurring here along with subsistence production of

Commodities have a value as labor-products, a social use-value and an
exchange-value. On this all are agreed. But, Marx notes, that
exchange-value need not necessarily be expressed in a universal
equivalent, i.e. money. If that was the case, exchange-value and money
would be identical. But Marx says expressly that they are not identical,
and he wants to explain the origins of money such that, as trading
processes develop, one or more commodities begin to function as general
equivalents. That is, money did not just drop out of the air one fine day,
any more than the law of value dropped out of the air one fine day, but
rather money was a practical solution arrived at in the evolution of
trading processes.

Let us take a close look at this. Marx writes in chapter 1 of Das Kapital
that "every product of labor is, in all states of society, a use-value;
but it is only at a definite historical epoch in a society's development
that such a product BECOMES A COMMODITY, viz., at the epoch when the labor
spent on the production of a useful article becomes expressed as one of
the objective qualities of that article, i.e. as its value. It therefore
follows that the elementary value-form is also THE PRIMITIVE FORM UNDER
gradual transformation of such products into commodities, proceeds pari
passu with the development of the value-form." (Progress ed., p. 67, my

What now is this elementary value-form ? "The value of commodity A is
qualitative expressed by the fact that commodity B is directly
exchangeable with it. Its value is quantitatively expressed by the fact,
that a definite quantity of B is exchangeable with a definite quantity of
A." (ibid., p. 66). Marx adds explicitly: "In other words, the value of a
commodity obtains independent and definite expression by taking the form
of exchange-value" (ibid.).

What we see here, is that for Marx, unlike Jerry and the mercantilists,
that simple commodity production does not presuppose money either. In its
elementary form, the exchange-value of commodity A is simply expressed in
a definite quantity of commodity B. Incidentally, contra the "value-form
theorists", Marx also adds expressly that "Our analysis has shown, that
the form of expression of the value of a commodity originates in the
nature of value, and not that value and its magnitude originate in their
mode of expression as exchange-value" (ibid.). That is, commodities have
value, because they are products of human labor, and NOT because of their
exchangeability. This is a sharp distinction between the substance and the
forms of value.

As a corollary, simple commodity production does not require anything more
than the most elementary forms of the division of labor and specialisation
in production. In "The economic life of primitive people", Herskovits
describes how in the Amazon basin, different tribes had their own
speciality: the Menimels excelled in pottery; the Karahones produced
poisons for hunting; the Boro's could make superior tapestries, belts and
blowpipes; the Nitoto's crafted hangmats. They would trade these products
as secondary activities, as an ancillary activity to hunting, fishing and
gathering. With the development of agriculture and permanent surpluses,
regular markets developed and consequently exchange processes became more

As you can now understand, I have not "conflated  'product' with
'commodity'" at all, this accusation is FALSE. I am merely following Marx
on this topic, rather than Jerry. Nor is it true, that if you adopt Marx's
view that "virtually all pre-capitalist production becomes commodity
production". This does not follow at all, because in pre-capitalist
societies commodity production with socially established exchange-values,
regardless of whether money is used or not, COMBINES with subsistence
production of use-values in various admixtures. Through aeons of time,
subsistence production is gradually displaced by commodity production, and
that is precisely how markets are historically formed and how
market-integration occurs.

So you see, I do NOT aim at all to prove that the 'commodity' is "natural
and eternal" but rather I aim to show the very opposite, namely the
historical evolution of the commodity form, from the elementary form to
the expanded form, and from the general form to the money-form. For my
part, I think it is shocking, that somebody who professes to be a Marxist
economist cannot even grasp this most basic distinction defined by Karl
Marx. I previously referred to "Marxist doctrinairism" which I reject, and
this is precisely why: while talking rhetoric about "the commodity", many
Marxists haven't a clue of what Marx actually argues.

Finally, you accuse me of not seeing commodity production as "a reality
that was brought about by a historical process and thru class struggle".
But, just because I did not make a ritual religious-Marxist reference to
"class struggle" in my previous post to prove how radical I am, that does
not mean that I have omitted it. Rather, I referred explicitly to the fact
that the transformation of products into commodities does not occur
automatically, but has definite social and political prerequisites, and
that markets do not just provide free choices, but also force producers to
buy and sell, in fact, that a market regime may be forced on the
producers. In the case of primitive accumulation, as I mentioned, market
expansion occurs through dispossession through which producers have no
other choice than to sell their labour-power.

The whole point however is that the social and political conflicts which
occur in the process of market expansion, settled through negotiation or
by force, do not necessarily have to involve "class struggles" but can
involve all sorts of social and political struggles. Marxists typically
conflate class struggles with class conflicts. A genuine class struggle
however implies that there is a class which, self-aware, is struggling
consciously for its own interests, but even if this is not the case, class
conflicts still occur, because those conflicts are objectively and
structurally rooted in modes of production which create and reproduce
those conflicts according to a systematic pattern, of which the fulcrum is
the conflict over the production and appropriation surplus-labor. But only
a simpleton would believe that this latter conflict is the only conflict
there is, or that the exploitation of surplus-labor is the only form of
exploitation there is.


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