Re: (OPE-L) RE: 'simple commodity production'

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Fri Sep 10 2004 - 13:39:01 EDT

At 8:19 PM -0400 9/9/04, Gerald A. Levy wrote:
>Hi Rakesh.  This thread is getting confusing:  I began by asking
>about the intellectual origins of simple commodity production (scp)
>and the thread quickly evolved into a discussion of  the concepts of
>scp and 'commodity' from a historical perspective.  You raise other
>issues -- mostly about Marx:
>  >>> Ok Marx may never have used the phrase simple commodity
>production. But didn't he distinguish between the capitalist
>circulation of commodities and the simple circulation of
>commodities, e.g. exchange of commodities by small craftsmen against
>the revenue of despots/lords or exchange of use values produced for
>feudal lords only in order to diversify their luxury consumption?
>Why not refer to the commodities circulated outside of capital as
>simple, i.e. non capitalist, commodity production? <<<
>The reason for the distinction between simple circulation and capitalist
>circulation of commodities was not to make a historical claim about
>what some (starting with Engels?) have called scp.

Marx did make historical claims about the difference between the
capitalist circulation of commodities and the non capitalist
circulation of commodities. Commodity exchange is not unique to

>   Rather, the purpose
>was to explain capitalist circulation _by way of contrast_ to a simpler
>_concept_ (just as simple reproduction served as a means used by Marx
>to go on to explain expanded reproduction) and to pose the puzzle of
>surplus value (i.e., from whence did the 'prime' in M-C-M' originate?).

No Marx refers to the non capitalist circulation of commodities under
feudalism and the Asiatic mode of production. This is not simply a
conceptual possibility. I don't know of Marx's own references to the
circulation of commodities at value among primarily independent
proprietors, e.g. single peasant families and rural crafstmen. I
think this is what Engels-Meek mean by simple commodity production,
and I have always been sympathetic to the criticisms from Chris A and
others. What I mean by simple commodity production is, I believe,
closer to what Marx meant. Here commodities circulate outside the
circuit of capital: they are exchanged against revenue, and are
exchanged to diversify luxury consumption. Jairus B. argues that
Wallerstein for example conflates the exchange of commodities  for
said diversification with the capitalist circulation thereof and
thereby mischaracterizes the second serfdom as a capitalist
production relation.

>You noted (former OPE-L member) Paul M's position on scp.  What
>do you think about the argument advanced by Chris  in The New Dialectic
>and Marx's Capital, p. 19-21 (beginning with the questions near the
>bottom  of  p. 19: "Does the model work conceptually?  Could the
>law of value really obtain its 'classical form' at such a postulated stage
>of development of commodity exchange?") ?

Yes, I am sympathetic to Chris A's argument here, and find myself in
agreement with Costas L's very stimulating elaboration thereof. For
example the underdevelopment of transitivity in pre-capitalist
exchange relations does not allow value to appear as an intrinsic
property of commodities. The whole problem of commodity fetishism in
Marx's sense seems particular to capitalism.

>  [I don't want to
>reproduce it here because it is quite an extended passage and I
>don't have the time now to reproduce it all. ]
>In solidarity, Jerry

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