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

From: Hans G. Ehrbar (ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Mon Dec 19 2005 - 13:44:04 EST

Resnick and Wolff wrote:

> ... 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.

A Critical Realist would say that this is an illicit
conflation of the real and the actual.  The goal of the
scientist is not primarily to identify the *processes* that
influence other processes but above all to identify the
underlying "generative mechanisms" which both enable and
necessitate the visible phenomena.  And even in a totality
in which everything depends on everything and therefore no
process can be seen in isolation, such underlying generative
mechanisms can be isolated, and they have varying degrees of
permanence and urgency.  If this is determinism then let's
all be determinists.

Marx did not begin with the commodity because it is the most
important causal agent in capitalist society.  He begins
with it because it is an ubiquitous object of individual
activity on the surface of the economy---everybody is buying
and selling commodities---and it is simple, i.e., the real
definition of a commodity can be given in one short
sentence: a commodity is something produced for the
exchange.  Marx uses the commodity as entry point for his
exploration of the invisible social relations which underly
the observable individual activity.

Here it need not disturb us that commodities obtain
additional determinations if they are the product of
capital.  They are still commodities, i.e., they
still have the double character of being use-values
and carriers of value, etc.


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