[OPE-L] essentials and scope

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Sep 20 2006 - 14:42:35 EDT

Hi Ajit,

I was responding to Howard and Jerry...

The case made is that although money and commodities are essential to
capitalism, they do not themselves define its essence. This makes sense if
by "essence" we mean its "historically unique specificity" and if we equate
"capitalism" with "capitalist mode of production" - the essence of
capitalism in that sense could be defined in terms of specific social
relations or one specific social relation such as the capital relation (for
my contributions to a definition of social relation (other contributors also
introduced some difficult terminology), see

One sort of problem here is, that capitalism may be a merchant capitalism
which does not involve a specifically capitalist mode of production - only
merchant capital, bank/finance capital and rentier capital, and at best a
proto-industrial form of production involving independent craftsmen and
episodic or marginal wage labour. You can also have situations of
semi-slavery, indentured labor, semi-proletarian labor and so on. So you can
in principle have a capitalism without significant capitalist production
being involved. Howard's problem is that wage-labour pre-existed the
capitalist mode of production by many centuries, so wage-labour (the
commodification of labour power) is not unique to the capitalist mode of
production, at best you can say that industrial capitalism generalises
wage-labour, i.e. transforms the labour force into employees and thereby
creates a general labour market. Contrary to Marxism, however, I think the
transformation of labour-power into a commodity is not a fixed or static
condition, but an historically evolving process.

Howard also comments that

"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."

The view that economic value exists only within capitalism is so obviously
false for any bona fide economic historian that it can be made true only by
specifying a unique meaning for economic value, applying only to capitalism,
in which case you have a tautology. In the ancient world, the
money-commodity obviously also was a store of value as well as a medium of
exchange, and means of purchase and payment.

If my definition of the CMP is acceptable to Smith, Ricardo, Sraffa and the
neoclassicals I have no particular problem with it, except that I don't
think it is true, both because Marx takes a different view of the
value-creation process, and because he takes a different view of the power
relations and social relations involved. Marx aims to show how capital,
which originates in the trade of a largely non-capitalist society, gradually
subordinates the whole of production to its commercial principles and thus
forms an historically distinctive, independent economy operating on the
basis of the laws of capital accumulation. His book is called DAS KAPITAL
and it shows how capital can grow to dominate a whole society, so that it
reproduces itself through the movements of capital, and what that means. But
not only that. He shows that the generalised use of money and commodities
revolutionises social relations, so that "generalised commodity production"
in fact means the domination of capital over society as a whole, in a way
which is historically specific and qualitatively new. In particular, this
involves the separation of the direct producers from ownership of the means
of production, as an ongoing process.

I think Capitalism does not necessarily require that some or all wages are
paid in money, it requires at most that wages are expressible (or accounted
for) in money prices. Wages may also be paid "in kind" or in shares or
stock-options and the like. However, if all wages are paid in kind there
exists little monetarily effective demand that can buy all the finished
consumer goods, so this is not really compatible with a capitalist economy.
The only way that could work, is if employers bought all the consumer goods
and services produced by Department II (consumer items-producing sector) and
somehow distributed them or "resold" them to the workers, but this would
usually involve more extra costs than profit, which most employers would
therefore be unlikely to agree to other than in special situations, such as
work in remote locations or where private purchase is impracticable. Usually
corporations will take care of the supply of some basic necessities such as
accommodation, health services, food, schooling, transportation and the
like, but not everything the worker needs or consumes; at least part of the
wage is still paid in money.

What is specific to the CMP is that "production of output is conditional on
capital accumulation", but what the social meaning of this is, is something
that Marx spends a lot of time exploring and explaining.


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