[OPE-L] essentials and essence

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Fri Sep 15 2006 - 01:24:26 EDT

If money and commodities are essential to capitalism, do they constitute
part of the essence of capitalism?

I think Marx's answer, pretty clearly, is no.

Marx insists on looking for the differentia specifica of a thing and is
always castigating economists who engage in forms of abstraction that ignore
specific differences in favor of common features characteristic also of
other forms of production.  In the chapter, the Results of the Immediate
Process of Production, for example, he castigates those who make the double
blunder of confusing capital as such with its elementary forms -- money and
the commodity -- on the one hand, and those who confuse capital with its
mode of existence as use value, ie means of production, on the other.

Is it possible for something to be essential to a thing but not part of its
essence?  This happens all the time.  It occurs with any species that
belongs to a genus.  All air breathing vertebrates, of which mammals are one
group, have lungs.  Those things which constitute the nature of the genus
are essential to all species that belong to that genus.  But they do not
constitute the essence of the species because they do not specifically
differentiate it from other species in the genus.  Thus, money and
commodities are essential to capitalism, and you cannot have capitalism
without them.  But they do not as such characterize its essence.  Labor
power as a commodity, on the other hand, is one feature of the differentia
specifica of capital.

All this of course is one of the fundamental theoretical questions of
Marxism just now.  Many think that value does not exist except as part of
capitalist production.  It is therefore essential to capitalism.  But for
those who take this position, not just that:  whether it be explained from
the perspective of the essentialist or anti-essentialist, value is a
defining characteristic of capitalism.  On this view our understanding of
commodities and money in terms of value is strictly limited to capitalist
production; in the ancient world, for example, money was a means of exchange
but did not represent value.  I may have this wrong, though, because I don't
understand the argument.


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