[OPE-L:1167] Re: Gil and capitalism as a totality,II

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Tue, 20 Feb 1996 17:23:19 -0800

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Continuing the discussion with Mike Lebowitz. He argues:

> 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 have suggested that the only sense in which Marx was "justified" in
so doing is one that corroborates the main point of critique of
Marx's chapter 5 argument. See my previous post.

> 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").

There are at least three problems with this passage and Mike's
interpretation of it. First, his last assertion that "the normal
reproduction of capitalism...includes as a condition that workers
look upon capital's requirements as 'self-evident natural laws'. It
is nowhere proven that this is a "condition" of capitalism's "normal
reproduction", and the passage that Mike gets the phrase from does
not indicate this. It says that "the advance of capitalist
production develops [i.e., is sufficient for] a working class which
by education, tradition, and habit looks upon the requirements of
that mode of production as self-evident natural laws", not that this
is an integral or necessary condition of "normal reproduction of
capitalism", unless the latter term is understood to include the
condition *by definition* [which Marx nowhere requires].

Second, if you read the passage Mike quotes here, you'll find that
it's ambiguous at best. Mike interprets the phrase "it is not
enough" as though it continued "it is not enough {for the normal
reproduction of capitalism", but if you read the passage together
with the paragraph immediately preceding it, I think you'll find that
there's an at least equally plausible alternative translation: "{Not
only is it true under capitalism}that the conditions of labour are
concentrated at one pole of society....{and } that they are compelled
to sell themselves voluntarily {, but furthermore} the advance of
capitalist production develops a working class which {etc, etc}.

Third, even if I grant Mike's interpretation of this passage
entirely, the *reasons* that "the purchase and sale of labour power
and the ensuing capitalist relations of production [are not]
sufficient to produce capitalism as an organic system" are
historical-strategic in nature, and *cannot possibly* have anything
to do with the arguments advanced in Ch 5. Thus, if Mike is right on
this score, he confirms the main point of my critique of Marx's
chapter 5 argument!

Mike continues:

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."

Oops, a shift in the argument. This passage establishes that real
subsumption is a sufficient condition for "breaking down all
resistance" to capitalism, *not* that it's a necessary condition.
Thus when Mike continues:

> In short, so long as there is merely formal subsumption
> of labour under capital, capitalism is not yet an organic
> system.

, not only does this not follow at all from the passage quoted, it
introduces unspecified (and I think, suspicious) conditions as to
what constitutes an "organic" system. Mike does not define the term.
I don't think *Marx* ever uses the term in this way.

And again, supposing Mike were right, possible *reasons* why real
subsumption might be a necessary condition for the reproduction of
capitalism as an "organic" system are almost surely
historical-strategic in nature, and in any case have nothing to do
with Marx's value-theoretic conclusions at the end of Ch. 5. This
argument is spelled out in my Ec & Phil paper, where, by the way, I
quote this exact passage.

>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.)

This isn't exactly true. As Marx points out in the first part of ch.
25, Volume I, even without state action or the specifically
capitalist mode of production, the dynamic logic of capital
accumulation will support the relative scarcity and thus the
profitability of capital. Thus the following passages are beside the

> 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.

But contrary to Mike's representation, there would still be
persistent capitalist profits even given only formal subsumption, in
light of Marx's argument in the first part of Ch. 25. Second, again,
to the extent real subsumption is really necessary for these results,
it is supported by historical-materialist arguments which are
essentially independent of Marx's arguments in Ch. 5. Thus, if Mike
were right, it would corroborate the main point of my critique.

> 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.

Oh, I do, subject to the important caveats I've lodged in my E& P and
S&S articles.

> 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)

Not really, since what I meant was that many, perhaps most Marxists
have taken Marx's Volume I arguments to suggest that usury and
merchant's capital prior to the capitalist mode of production
involved only redistribution of value and not appropriation of
surplus value, contrary to Marx's own explicit and repeated
arguments. Indeed, Mike may remember illustrations of this from
arguments lodged against me by others in the first Ch. 5 debate.

Also, certain arguments against Roemer's analysis are clearly invalid
in light of this recasting of Marx's argument
> Now, Gil may respond that my argument was not at all
> value-theoretic and thus demonstrates his own argument,

As indeed I did because indeed it does, since Mike's arguments in the
previous two posts *manifestly** have nothing to do with Marx's
value-theoretic conclusions at the end of Ch. 5

> that's something better left for some other time.

No time like the present, I always say.

In solidarity, Gil