[OPE-L] essentials and scope

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Sep 18 2006 - 16:42:13 EDT

Marx defined the capitalist mode of production (CMP) sometimes (1) as
"generalised commodity production" (veralgemeinte Warenproduktion), i.e. the
subordination of the entire production process of an economic community to
the laws of commercial trade, and sometimes (2) as a "unity of the
process and the circulation process".

Such an economic system could not exist at all, without the general use of
money and the valuation of assets in monetary terms - the growth of
integrated capital, credit and money markets within and between
nation-states were a powerful stimulus for the development of the system.

I think though Marx saw the essence of the CMP in what he calls "the capital
relation" - summarised with the formula that "capital commands/buys labor".
This assumes that both the inputs (the "factors of production") and outputs
of production have become tradeable commodities with money prices, within a
market system.

Broadly, I would say the difference between merchant capitalism and
industrial capitalism is that in merchant capitalism the larger part of
production in an economic community does *not* function on a specifically
capitalist basis (with privately owned means of production that can be more
or less freely bought and sold as capital investments, and an extensive,
integrated labour market for wage-labour).

So, in merchant capitalism, trading houses, a small urban industrial sector,
urban and rural petty-commodity production and subsistence farming exist
side by side. In industrial capitalism, the extraction of surplus-value is
however no longer limited mainly to the exchange (trading) process, but is
also obtained directly from industries employing wage-labour, on a large
scale, carried out on the basis of commercial principles.

The "Smithian" or mercantilist vision of a "society of petty commodity
producers" was in reality not possible, since beyond a certain point the
growth of commercial markets inevitably produces industrial capital and wage
labour on a larger and larger scale (though perhaps very unevenly in space
and time).

Historians debate the exact periodisations of mercantile and industrial
capitalism - after all we are dealing with a world-historical process
stretched out in time and space - but I would say one could date the
beginnings of the dominance of industrial capitalism in Western Europe
(principally Britain) at around 1800 or 1820.

The concept `working class' emerged in Europe towards the end of
the 18th century, at first used especially in the plural form. The 'working
classes' (or labouring classes) comprised all those people employed to
work for wages in manual occupations. Probably the term came into
use when, because of the rise of manufactures and factories, new
groups of wage earners appeared who could be classified neither
among domestic servants, nor among day-labourers or

I've provided a short wikipedia entry on the CMP here:


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