[OPE-L:1234] Gil and Mike's Surprising Agreement

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Mon, 26 Feb 1996 23:28:02 -0800

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Well, I knew that one of the hazards of taking a break
before writing this message was that Gil would jump in to
announce what our "surprising agreement" is. In 1224, Gil
states that, as I have noted, nothing in my posts depends
for its validity on Marx's conclusions at the end of Ch. 5
and that it seems that I agree "at least tacitly" with the
basic point of his critique--- that "the appropriate basis
for understanding the significance and dynamics of the
capitalist mode of production is... not the value-theoretic
grounds established in Ch. 5."
OK, here's my confession: even though I continue to
disagree with Gil (as indicated in the posts resulting from
yesterday's burst of energy) because of his grievous errors
in treating non-capitalist relations as capitalist (thereby
gliding into revisionism, fundamentalism or some other
equally heinous heresy), I *do* agree with his statement in
1166 that:

"**whether or not** Marx intendedly limits his focus to the
societies in which the capitalist mode of production
prevails, nothing in the logical structure of his argument
depends on this limitation. Thus either the argument is
logically valid or it isn't. And it isn't."

Let me immediately qualify this agreement. I think
Marx's logical argument in CAPITAL proceeding from the
commodity to money to capital is brilliant. I have problems,
however, with the argument presented for the movement from
capital to the capital/wage-labour relation (which
encompasses not only Ch. 5 but also Ch. 6). I am not saying
that a valid logical argument could not be constructed to
bridge from the understanding of capital as M-C-M' to the
buying and selling of labour-power as the premise of
capitalist relations of production--- merely that it is not
there in Chs. 5 and 6, where a puzzle and an assumption
serve in its place. Further, I think this is one of those
places where we need to distinguish clearly between the
method of enquiry and that of presentation.
Let's go back to the Grundrisse. It was there that
Marx, who had long understood that the central relationship
in capitalism was that of capitalist and wage-labourer (cf.,
eg, 1844 Mss., Wage-Labour and Capital), grasped that you
could not move (logically) from labour to capital but
needed--- if one was to grasp the nature of capital--- to
proceed from money to capital. Where, then, did wage-labour
come in? The question Marx asked in the Grundrisse is---
what is the use-value for capital which stands outside
capital as such? He answered (Vintage/Penguin, 272), "The
only *use-value*, therefore, which can form the opposite
pole to capital is *labour (to be exact, value-creating,
productive labour*." He underlines his (dialectical) point
two pages later: "the real *not-capital* is *labour*.
It is obvious here from the outset that the subject
Marx has in mind is capital-as-a-whole, since the opposite
pole to any *individual* capital can be *another* individual
capital (as it is indeed at the level of many capitals).
There is no need to reveal this by pointing out that the
capitalist class cannot defraud itself, and there is no
place at all here for questions of equivalent or non-
equivalent exchanges. Rather, the question is what is not-
capital, what is the opposite to the objectified labour (in
money and commodities) of which capital is a specific unity?
Marx's point was the same when he began to plan the
extension of his Contribution to the Critique of Political
Economy. You can see this in the Collected Works, Vol. 29
(p. 503), when he says: "*Labour is* the only *use value
which can present an opposite and a complement to money as
capital*, and it exists in labour capacity, which exists as
a subject." And, he continues: "The exchange through which
money becomes capital cannot be its exchange with
commodities [in general] but can only be one with its
conceptually determined opposite, the commodity which is
itself a conceptually determined opposite of it--- labour."
(504). (I restrained myself from adding italics to
"conceptually determined".)
Marx returned to the same point in his 1861-3 Mss in
his discussion of the transformation of money into capital,
where he notes, "The sole antithesis to objectified labour
is non-objectified, *living labour*." (Vol. 30, p.35) He
goes on to note that the only commodity which "has any
direct use value at all for the value which is to be
valorised" is one whose "use itself constitutes the creation
of value" and "such use value is only possessed by *living
labour capacity*" (36).
As can be seen, Marx is very clearly arguing here in
value-theoretic terms. The logical question (once the
concept of capital is developed) which drives his enquiry
is-- what can be a use-value for capital, self-valorising
value, when it enters into an exchange? The only trace you
can find of this, however, in Ch. 5 and Ch. 6 is Marx's
statement at the beginning of Ch. 6 that capital "must be
lucky enough" to find on the market "a commodity whose use-
value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of
value, whose actual consumption is therefore an
objectification of labour, hence a creation of value"
(Vintage,270). That's it! No discussion of how labour-power
is necessary for capital to exist as such (as opposed to as
money), no consideration of labour as "the conceptually
determined opposite" of capital, no stress upon living,
subjective labour vs. objectified labour.
In its place, we get the exercise of Ch. 5 (which
surfaces in the 1861-3 Mss as an exploration of whether
capital as such is compatible with the nature of money,
commodity and circulation) and Ch. 6's dropping from the sky
of both the existence of the doubly-free producer (as a
"historical presupposition") and *also* the situation of
that doubly-free producer as seller of labour-power
(presumably *another* historical presupposition--- since
nothing here has explained why that producer does not rent
means of production).
I've always felt that Gil's ammunition was misdirected,
and that his real target should be the leap Marx makes in
Ch. 6 to the buying and selling of labour-power because this
step is not developed logically in CAPITAL. And, this
absence is no minor question (this is where the "stakes" get
mentioned). If it is correct to say that there is a logical
gap in the movement from money to capitalist relations of
production, then one can not assert that capital as such is
latent in the commodity; a contingent historical development
which not only separates the producer from means of
production but also turns that producer into wage-labourer
is requisite. In the same way, one could not say that in the
post-capitalist society commodity exchange implies
capitalism (because the commodity implies capital)--- as
some (like Paresh Chattopadhyay) argue.
Finally (for now), come back to how/why Marx proceeded
from money as capital to the sale of labour-power (and thus
capitalist relations of production). Fred and I have argued
Marx makes this transition because "societies in which the
capitalist mode of production prevails" was the subject from
the outset. In the 1861-3 Mss, Marx explicitly offers
another point after having decribed living labour as the
sole antithesis to objectified labour:

"Let us therefore assume that the money-owner buys labour,
hence the seller sells not a commodity but labour. This
relation cannot be explained on the basis of the relation of
the circulation of commodities, considered previously, where
the only parties confronting each other are the owners of
commodities. For the moment we shall not inquire here into
the conditions for this relation, and simply assume it as a
fact." (Vol. 30,35)

And, he then proceeds to follow the familar argument in
Ch.6. In short, Marx *assumed as a fact* the sale of labour-
power (presumably because it was the characteristic relation
in capitalism). The logical development isn't there in the
Mss, and it isn't there in CAPITAL. Gil thinks it needs to
be--- because he doesn't accept that the subject of CAPITAL
is societies in which the capitalist mode of production
prevails; I don't think it does need to be but *do* agree
with Gil that a valid logical argument for the exclusive
focus upon the sale of labour-power is not present in Chs. 5
and 6 and that this should be acknowledged. Well, I thought
it was a surprising agreement.
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