[OPE-L:1128] gil and capitalism as a totality,I

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Tue, 20 Feb 1996 02:12:00 -0800

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I have been wanting to make a comment about Gil's
arguments in relation to Ch. 5 and all that; and Fred's
recent post (1126) opens up the issue I want to address. I
agree completely with Fred that the essential point to grasp
is that Capital assumes the capitalist mode of production
from the outset and that "Marx's theory, from the very
beginning is about capitalism as an existing totality."
In Ch. 5, Marx argued that surplus value for society as
a whole can emerge from the exchange of neither equivalents
nor non-equivalents in simple circulation and thus we must
look to something not visible in (simple) circulation for
the explanation of surplus value in the societies in
question (presumably, as the opening sentence of Capital
indicates, those "in which the capitalist mode of production
prevails"). Accordingly, he proceeded to develop the
argument showing how in these societies surplus value was
generated within production.
Gil has protested, however, (eg., in 1056), that Marx
made an invalid leap from his point about surplus value and
simple circulation to an argument that capitalist
exploitation (a) must be explained upon the basis of price-
value equivalence and (b) "requires the purchase and
subsumption of labor power within the capitalist mode of
Fred has responded to both points, and I want to
address the second, which Gil is especially anxious to
reject. Capitalist exploitation, he insists (citing Marx),
occurred outside and before the emergence of the capitalist
mode of production--- eg., via the usurer and merchant
capital. Accordingly, there must be some *other* explanation
of the emergence of the capitalist mode of production (and
its characteristic purchase of labour-power), something
other than Marx's "value-theoretic" explanation. Gil
proposes that "the onset and prevalence of the capitalist
mode of production is best understood on historically
contingent strategic grounds which are essentially
independent of Marx's value theory"; in 952, he describes
the alternative as "Marx's historical-strategic account of
capitalist exploitation".
I've learned a lot from the questions that Gil has been
posing (both here and in the old "Ch. 5 debate" a few years
back on Pen-L) but think Gil has not sufficiently considered
the implications of Marx's indication that his investigation
concerns "societies in which the capitalist mode of
production prevails." The question appears relevant, too, to
Gil's preferred alternative, the "historical-strategic
Let's start from the premise that Marx was concerned in
Capital to communicate an understanding of capitalism as a
totality. What does that mean? For me, it means (among other
things) that Marx wanted to demonstrate in general that all
capitalism's premises and presuppositions are results, ie
are produced within capitalism--- and, in particular, that
capital itself is a result, the result of the exploitation
of workers, ie., the worker's own product. If we begin with
a historical presupposition (eg., the separation of
producers from the means of production--- or Roemer's
differential property endowments), the point is to show that
this condition is reproduced by capitalism itself and thus,
to this extent, capitalism is a reproducing, stable system.
Would Gil disagree with any of the above? Although I
have the feeling that at points that he treats Capital more
as a historical account than as the study of an organic
system, I think Gil would accept the above if capitalist
exploitation were not interpreted as relating exclusively to
the case where the sale and purchase of labour-power has
occurred. However, if we posit the requirement that the
system be a stable, reproducing organic system, would Gil's
other examples of capitalist exploitation (exploitation by
the usurer and merchant capital) satisfy this condition?
I suggest that, having introduced (from the sky--- ie,
without it flowing logically from the preceding treatment)
the existence of the doubly-free producer and capital as
owner of the means of production) in Ch.6, Marx proceeded to
consider only the buying and selling of labour-power (ie.,
"labour-market island") and not the alternatives (eg.,
"credit-market island) because *only* the combination of no
property rights for workers in the product of labour and
subordination of workers to capital within the labour
process ensures the reproduction of capitalist relations.
(It also was and is the characteristic form of capitalism,
but this is not an entirely independent point.)
In short, my suggestion to Gil is that where producers
retain property rights in the products of their labour--- as
they did in the case of exploitation by usurers and in some
(but not all) cases of proto-industrialisation, there are
conditions in which they will be able to extract themselves
from those relations. In this respect, those forms of
exploitation *cannot* be the basis for capitalism as an
organic system. Only where labour-power is bought and sold
is the necessary condition for capitalism, the
propertylessness of the producer, produced; accordingly, it
is entirely appropriate for Marx to ignore usurer's capital
and merchant capital in studying capitalism as a totality.
However, is the buying and selling of labour-power and
the associated capitalist relations of production sufficient
itself for capitalism to be such an organic system? I'll
address this point in a subsequent note.
in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 255-0382
Lasqueti Island: (604) 333-8810
e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca