[OPE-L:1129] Gil and capitalism as a totality,II

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Tue, 20 Feb 1996 02:18:43 -0800

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In my preceding note, I argued that Marx was justified
in ignoring exploitation by usurers and merchant capital as
the basis for capitalism as a totality. I ended by asking,
however, if the purchase and sale of labour-power and the
ensuing capitalist relations of production were sufficient
to produce capitalism as an organic system.
It is essential to recognise that Marx answered "no".
In Vol I, Ch.28 (Vintage/Penguin 899), he argued:

It is not enough that the conditions of labour are
concentrated at one pole of society in the shape of capital,
while at the other pole are grouped masses of men who have
nothng to sell but their labour-power. Nor is it enough that
they are compelled to sell themselves voluntarily."

Ie., neither those differential property endowments nor
the actual labour-power contract are sufficient. For what?
For the normal reproduction of capitalism (which includes as
a condition that workers look upon capital's requirements
"as self-evident natural laws"). And, the sufficient
condition for this? The development of the specifically
capitalist mode of production:

"The organization of the capitalist process of
production, once it is fully developed, breaks down all
resistance. The constant generation of a relative surplus
population keeps the law of the supply and demand of labour,
and therefore wages, within narrow limits which correspond
to capital's valorization requirements. The silent
compulsion of economic relations sets the seal on the
domination of the capitalist over the worker."

In short, so long as there is merely formal subsumption
of labour under capital, capitalism is not yet an organic
system. Until it produces its own specifically capitalist
mode of production--- which precludes the possibility that
wage-labourers themselves will be able to extract themselves
from their dependence upon capital, capital cannot rely upon
its own processes to produce its presuppositions. (As this
section notes, it accordingly must draw upon "the power of
the state" under such conditions.) The proof of all this,
for Marx, was demonstrated in the colonies--- a
demonstration which he sees as important enough to conclude
the volume--- where capitalism in the absence of "artificial
means" (937) could not be reproduced because the market
conditions for labour permitted workers to extract
themselves from wage-labour. Ie., that "great beauty of
capitalist production" (935) , its production of a relative
surplus population, which ensures "the social dependence of
the worker on the capitalist, which is indispensable" was
not present.
All of this is a pretty long-winded way (sorry about
that, comrades!) of saying that if we interpret Marx's
purpose as being one of considering capitalism as a
totality, then it follows that-- contra Gil-- the focus is
appropriately upon the labour-power contract and upon the
situation "in which the capitalist mode of production
prevails." Further, it bears noting that this focus upon the
necessary conditions for capitalism as a totality may not be
too different to what Gil sees as the "historical-strategic
account of exploitation"; if so, he should be prepared to
accept Marx's exclusive focus on the labour-power contract.
In particular, if he accepts the above, he would need to
reject an argument which views as "pernicious" the
implication that "capitalist exploitation requires the
purchase and subsumption of labor power within the
capitalist mode of production." (Gil:1056)
Now, Gil may respond that my argument was not at all
value-theoretic and thus demonstrates his own argument, but
that's something better left for some other time.
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