[OPE-L:1220] capitalist relations of production

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Mon, 26 Feb 1996 00:55:51 -0800

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Now, some of the stakes in the exchange with Gil will
become clear.
In 1166, Gil responded to my suggestion-- that 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--
in the following way:

"This is a pretty neat, even ingenious, idea. As far as I
can see there are only 4 problems with it:
1) It's completely unproven, by Marx or anyone else (and
it's a pretty strong, i.e. categorical, claim, so it needs
an explicit proof)."

I agree with Gil here. I don't have an explicit proof,
but I think it should be possible to demonstrate this.

"2) It is almost certainly not true. For example,
capitalist relations would almost certainly be reproduced
even if there were a law passed which required all firms to
be worker-owned, subject to the caveat that they must borrow
money from capitalists...."

Here we get to a rather central question. What does Gil
understand by the term, "capitalist relations"? I've argued
(cf, Science and Society, Summer 1988) that it is necessary
to distinguish between capitalist property relations (KP)
and capitalist relations of production (KRP), which *by
definition* mean "the worker works under the control of the
capitalist to whom his labour belongs" and "the product is
the property of the capitalist and not that of the worker".
KP are necessary but not sufficient for KRP. I reject--- and
believe Marx did--- the idea that where workers work under
their own control, where their labour belongs to them and
where the product is their property that we are talking
about the same relations of production that Marx explored in
However, I think that, for Gil (like Roemer), KP=KRP;
ie., those differential property endowments are in
themselves KRP. What happens, I suggest, is that the
essential category-- productive relations-- disappears; and
with this additional degree of freedom, Gil is able to throw
cases with quite disparate property rights (including
worker-owned collectives and firms with wage-labourers) into
the same box. Just as I believe that it is inappropriate to
describe the case of simple commodity producers exploited by
merchant capitalists or usurers as one of capitalist
relations of production (which, is to say, capitalism), I
similarly reject the latter designation for a society of
worker-owned collectives, where workers collectively have
property-rights in their products.
(Gil has offered to provide some passages from Marx on
worker cooperatives which support his conclusions, and I
hope he will do so.)

Finally, Gil's points 3 and 4 both relate to the matter
of value-theoretic questions, which I can't put off any
longer (except to the next message... tomorrow).
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