[OPE-L] resnick and wolff on the commodity form

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Mon Dec 19 2005 - 00:39:57 EST

I've copied below excerpts from the text of a review by Resnick and Wolff of
Harvey's work  called "Dialectics and Class, etc." The URL for the complete
article is


The excerpt begins with a few paragraphs devoted to method and then the
section on Commodity Production.  Two other sections appear in the article:
"Space" and then last "Profit Rate."

I'd be interested in comments on the analysis and methodology.


* * * * * * * * * *



The New School Economic Review

Volume 1 Fall 2004 Number 1

Dialectics and Class in Marxian Economics:

David Harvey and Beyond

Stephen Resnick

Richard Wolff

Department of Economics

University of Massachusetts-Amherst

p. 9

* * *

The role of class as conceptual entry point raises the question of the
relation between

class processes and all the non-class processes within the economy and
society. The process of

class might be thought to determine, in the first or last instance, the
economy's forces of

production, commodity production, profit rate, and perforce the
superstructure's processes of

property ownership, power, and culture. Similarly, class might be thought to
govern the spatial

location of all these processes. Classical Marxism reasons in that way: the
mode of production

structures the economic base and the superstructure. It reduces the
evolution of the economy,

society, and the physical environment to the fundamentally determining
contradictions at its

base. This classical economic determinism holds that the contradictions
between the base's

relations and forces of production govern social changes elsewhere.

Another and very different kind of causal relationality has also informed

Labeled "overdetermination" and critically appropriated from Freud by Lukacs
and then

Althusser, it refuses to conceive of processes as either causes or effects.4
Instead, each and every

individual process within society is conceived as a site of different
effectivities emanating from

all the other social processes. Each process is thus both cause and effect;
each partly constitutes

and is constituted by all the others. To affirm this kind of relational
logic as the distinctively

Marxian dialectic implies certain theses. First, no social or physical
process can be treated as

existing independently from the others, since each is caused literally by
the different effectivities

emanating from the others. Second, it follows that no one process can be
deduced from any one

other process. Finally, it follows that no particular process can be deemed
to be more or less

important in its causation than any other. Indeed, the unique impact of any
one process on any



and all others is itself a result of how that one process is constituted by
them. These three theses

necessarily vitiate economic or any other kind of determinism.

III. A. Commodity Production

Let us now return to the opening lines of Capital to read our three focal
topics -

commodity production, space, and profit rate - from and with the entry
points of (1) class as

surplus labor and (2) the dialectic understood as overdetermination.
Commodity production then

becomes the first of ever so many non-class processes introduced by Marx and
then linked by

him to class processes so as to give the interdependent meanings he intends
to both class and

commodity production. Indeed, the contradictory relationship of class
processes, especially

capitalist exploitation, and commodities becomes one of several central
themes across the three

volumes of Capital.

Following this kind of dialectical logic, once Marx introduces commodity
production, he

immediately explores its relations with other social processes as his way of

constructing/enriching the meaning of - quite literally defining - commodity
production. Like

every other process to which Marx relates it, commodity production is the
site of the effectivities

of those other social processes. The latter include the many non-class
processes cited in the first

two hundred pages of Capital: wealth produced for sale, wealth possessed of
a use value in and

to society; wealth produced by concrete labor using a particular technology
(the forces of

production); wealth exchangeable for a universal equivalent (money); and so
forth. Marx's

predecessors noted many of these non-class processes (as he acknowledged).
What Marx adds

that is new and that reworks his predecessors' insights is his connection of

production to the capitalist fundamental class process, i.e. to
exploitation. Marx reveals the



production and appropriation of surplus as a dimension of capitalist
commodities. Class

processes (surplus production, exploitation, etc.) and commodity production
are theorized as

conditions of each other's existence, mutually constitutive, components of
each other's

definitions in an altogether original formulation.

Embracing the notion of overdetermination in this way has profound
implications. In

adding each of these related and hence constitutive processes, the meaning
of a commodity

changes continually from what it was when introduced at the beginning of
Capital to what it

becomes as the text proceeds. Hence the meaning of commodity production
cannot be conceived

as ever fixed, nor can it be reduced to some basic foundational determinant.
Rather, it

necessarily changes across Capital, because the successively introduced
social processes across

each volume continually reconstitute its qualitative and quantitative
meaning. Marx used the

words "socially necessary " (in progressively modifying abstract labor time)
to capture his

dialectical conception of a commodity's meaning as a site of other
processes' differing and

changing political, cultural, and economic determinations.

Consider, for one example, the difference in the qualitative meaning of a
commodity as

initially posed in volume 1 of Capital from what it has become at the end of
that volume. One

hundred and fifty pages into the volume, Marx introduces the capitalist
fundamental class

process as a condition of existence of commodity production. In his manner
of relating

commodity production and class, Marx changes the very meaning of a
commodity. It is made

different from his predecessors' definitions and indeed also from what had
been developed as its

elaborated definition in the first 150 pages. He first showed how commodity
production could

(and in Europe did) evolve from pre-capitalist forms to enable and yield a
specifically capitalist

commodity. He then proceeded to explore the feedback effects as capitalist
class processes



reacted back upon commodities to shape what they became, namely specifically

commodities. "The commodity that emerges from capitalist production is
different from the

commodity we began with as the element, the precondition of capitalist
production" (Marx,

1990, 953). The difference is that it is now a "product of capital", namely
a container of surplus

value (Ibid. 954).

Theorizing in this way opens new analytical possibilities in social
analysis. For example,

commodities may emerge from capitalist as differentiated from non-capitalist
class structures of

production. Thus, communist commodities would be products not only of labor,

exchange, and so on, but also of specifically communist class structures of
production (where the

collective of producers is identically also the appropriator of the
surpluses it produces).5

Similarly, feudal, slave, and simple (self-employed labor) commodities
become possible

components of such aggregate abstractions as "commodity exchange" and

production." Such qualitative differentiation among commodities - which
coexist in varying

proportions in many societies - becomes important because the very meanings
of commodity,

value, price, and so on vary with their different class dimensions (or

Consider a second example in which the quantitative meaning of a capitalist

develops across the volumes of Capital. In the first volume's conception of
competition, where

different capitals (enterprises) compete for profits within one industry;
"socially necessary

abstract labor time" refers to the weighted average of each individual
enterprise's abstract labor

time needed per unit of output. Each commodity's value becomes literally the
site (the weighted

average) of such quantitative differences among the enterprises in the
industry producing that

commodity. Harvey's (1982, 338) insight is pertinent here: "The abstract
labor embodied at

particular locations under specific concrete conditions is a social average
taken across all



locations and conditions." Hence no commodity's value can be reduced to the
technology of any

one enterprise. It is rather the (overdetermined) product of all the social
processes shaping the

individual labor productivities located within the particular set of
enterprises comprising the

industry generating that commodity. Then, in volume 3, Marx enlarges the
scope of the

competition faced by each capitalist enterprise to include capitals
competing for profits from all

other industries. As is well known, a new meaning of value emerges once

competition is theoretically introduced and integrated into the preceding
analysis. Marx gives

this new "form" of value the name, "price of production."

Less well known but logically implied by Marx's dialectical approach is the

reconceptualization of value itself required by the theoretical integration
of inter-industry

competition. Every commodity's value now becomes the product of the living
labor required for

its production plus the price of production the capitalist has to pay for
the commodity inputs (raw

materials, tools, and equipment) with which the living labor works. In this
way, commodity

values become dependent upon commodity prices of production - a new insight
flowing from an

overdeterminist perspective - as well as prices of production being
dependent upon commodity

values as has long been thought within Marxism (Wolff, Roberts, and Callari
1982, 1984).

Conceiving of commodities in this dialectical way vitiates the so-called

problem and critique that has long bedeviled Marxian economics. The
traditional critiques of

and offered solutions to Marx's transformation share a common reductionism:
they reduce prices

to values and the latter to the volume 1 notion of a commodity and
competition. In contrast,

theorizing value as overdetermined such that successive determinants of
value are explored and

integrated into its meaning/definition yields a developed notion of value in
volume 3 that

dissolves the old price-value critique of Marxian value theory originated by
Bohm-Bawerk and



reiterated by countless critics since.6 It does so by simultaneously
transforming value into prices

of production and prices of production into value.

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