Re: [OPE-L] essentials and scope

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Fri Sep 22 2006 - 12:25:26 EDT

Hi Jurriaan,

Many thanks for the post below; sorry I was not able to reply sooner.  Your
comments make clear that I need to be more precise about several things I

First, I want to draw a distinction between defining the capital relation
and defining the capitalist mode of production.  I confused these by
referring to 'capitalism' when I meant the capital relation only.  The point
I was focused on in my earlier intervention was explaining that something
could be essential to capital as a social relation without being a feature
that would characterize its essence.  Here I used the analogy of the lung --
its essential to all air breathing vertebrates, but it does not specifically
differentiate homo sapiens from other mammals.

But by using the word 'capitalism' when I meant 'capital', I muddied the
necessary distinction between capital as a social relation and the
capitalist mode of production.  I don't think the capitalist mode of
production can be characterized by the capital relation alone.  I think the
commodity relation also is required to specifically differentiate the CMP.

Second, I think there is a difference between defining capital as the
foundational social relation of the capitalist mode of production and
offering a general formula for capital.  The general formula for capital, as
Fred has insisted, is M-C-M' and that covers merchant and financial capital
even when these attach to other modes of production.  But we want to
understand not just the general formula but also the basic determination of
capitalism as a mode of production.  This, I think, is what Marx refers to
as capital in general or the general concept of capital.

Third, with respect to both these points, I did not offer the sale of labor
power as a feature that would by itself exhaustively and comprehensively
define the nature of capital.  I simply offered it as an example of a
feature that was part of the differentia specifica of capital in general.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Jurriaan Bendien" <adsl675281@TISCALI.NL>
Sent: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 2:42 PM
Subject: [OPE-L] essentials and scope

> 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
> "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
> my contributions to a definition of social relation (other contributors
> 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
> 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
> but did not represent value.  I may have this wrong, though, because I
> 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
> specifying a unique meaning for economic value, applying only to
> 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
> 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,
> 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.
> not only that. He shows that the generalised use of money and commodities
> revolutionises social relations, so that "generalised commodity
> 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
> 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
> 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
> The only way that could work, is if employers bought all the consumer
> and services produced by Department II (consumer items-producing sector)
> 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
> work in remote locations or where private purchase is impracticable.
> corporations will take care of the supply of some basic necessities such
> accommodation, health services, food, schooling, transportation and the
> like, but not everything the worker needs or consumes; at least part of
> wage is still paid in money.
> What is specific to the CMP is that "production of output is conditional
> capital accumulation", but what the social meaning of this is, is
> that Marx spends a lot of time exploring and explaining.
> Jurriaan

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sat Sep 30 2006 - 00:00:06 EDT