[OPE-L:678] Chapter 1 about capitalism?

Fred Moseley (fmoseley@laneta.apc.org)
Fri, 8 Dec 1995 12:28:13 -0800

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Chai-on Lee (611) writes:

If you assume explicitly from the very beginning the totality of
capitalism, you have to explain what we mean by capitalism before
analysing the commodity. To explain the capitalism, however, you have
to explain the concept of surplus value, which require in return the
analysis of the commodity. So, the commodity is not to be presupposed
to be a product of capitalism in the beginning. Otherwise, you are
putting the cart before the horse. Logical prerequisites dictate this.
It is necessary not to assume the capitalism in the analysis of the
commodity for that very reason and then explain the capitalism after the
concept of surplus value.

I reply:

I disagree. One does not have to explain capitalism and surplus-value in
order to assume that the subject of one's analysis is capitalism. One can
(and Marx did) begin one's anlysis of capitalism with the simplest, most
universial aspect of capitalism (that its product is a commmodity) and then
derive and explain capital and surplus-value and other aspects of capitalism
one by one.

Marx stated in many places that the subject of his analysis from the very
beginning was capitalism. The first sentence of Chapter 1 ("the capitalist
mode of production") has already been mentioned. The "Results" manuscript
discusses the commodity at the beginning of Capital as the "simplest
element" or the "elementary form" of capitalist production. Another
important statement is in the methodological introduction to the Grundrisse:

In the succession of economic categories, as in any other historical
social science, it must not be forgotten that their subject - here,
well as in reality, and that these categories therefore express the
forms of being, the characteristics of existence, and often only

It would therefore be unfeasible and wrong to let the economic
categories follow one another in the same sequence as they were
historically decisive. Their sequence is determined, rather, by
their relation to one another in MODERN BOURGEOIS SOCIETY, which is
precisely the opposite of that which seems to be their natural order
or which corresponds to historical development. The point is not
the historic position of the economic relations of different forms
of society... Rather, their order within MODERN BOURGEOIS SOCIETY.
(G. 106-07; emphasis added).

Another important discussion of this point is in the Urtext, in a section
entitiled "The Transition to Capital" (Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol.
29, pp. 478-500). An especially clear statement that simple circulation
(the subject of Part 1) is an abstract sphere of capitalist production is on
p. 482:

At this point, however, we have nothing to do with the historical
transition of circulation into capital. The simple circulation is, rather,
an abstract sphere of the bourgeois process of production as a whole, which
through its own determinations shows itself to be a moment, a mere form of
appearance of some deeper process lying behind it, even resulting from it
and producing it - industrial capital.

References which discuss this aspect of Marx's method (that capitalism is
the subject of Marx's theory from the very beginning of Capital) include:

Banaji, J. (1979). "From the Commodity to Captal: Hegel's Dialectic in
Marx's Capital," in Value: The Representation of Labor in Capitalism.
Edited by Diane Elson. London: CSE Books.

Campbell, M (1994). "The Commodity as Necessary Form of Product,"
in Economics as Worldly Philosopher: Essays on Political and Historical
Economics in Honor of Robert L. Heilbroner. London: Macmillan.

Smith, T. (1990). "The Debate Regarding Dialectical Logic in Marx's
Economic Writings," Interntional Philosophical Quarterly, 30(3): 289-98.

Fred Moseley