[OPE-L:1309] Re: capitalist relations of production

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Mon, 4 Mar 1996 15:17:22 -0800

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Here is a short response to Mike's post #1220, in preparation for the
grand finale (Mike's post 1234), which will have to wait until
Wednesday. This time it seems most efficient to excerpt from Mike's
post. Mike maintains the position

> [...] 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--

That is, Marx's justification for his exclusive focus subsequent to
Ch. 5 on the purchase and subsumption of labor power under
capitalist-controlled production is that this is necessary to
"ensure the reproduction of capitalist relations."

What does Mike mean by "capitalist relations" in this context?
He spells this out a paragraph or so later:

> 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

OK, suppose I grant that by "capitalist relations" Marx meant "the
worker works under the control of the capitalist to whom is labour
belongs" and "the product is the property of the capitalist and not
that of the worker." Substituting this into the passage I cited from
Mike in the first part of this post, one gets the following strict and literal
result: according to Mike, Marx proceeds as he does on the grounds
that only the purchase and subsumption of labor power under capital ensures
the reproduction of the purchase and subsumption of labor power under capital.

In other words, A is necessary for A. This is a tautology.

Suppose instead we interpret "capitalist relations" as relations of
*capitalist exploitation*, defined (following Marx) as the
appropriation of surplus value based on some circuit of capital.
Then Mike's claim is no longer tautological, but it is also no longer
true in general, as confirmed by Marx's historical analysis and
Roemer's theoretical analysis, and as I argue in my earlier response
(1166) to Mike.

> However, I think that, for Gil (like Roemer), KP=KRP;

[i.e., capitalist property relations= capitalist relations of

> ie., those differential property endowments are in
> themselves KRP.

No, I certainly don't believe this, and I don't think Roemer does,
either. Rather, I argue that *capitalist exploitation*, as Marx
understood the term, does not in general require KRP, as explicitly
affirmed in Marx's historical analysis and corroborated by Roemer's
theoretical analysis. This is not to deny that under given historically
contingent strategic conditions, KRP might increase the realizable
*degree* of capitalist exploitation. From conversations with Roemer,
I know he accepts this as well.

> What happens, I suggest, is that the
> essential category-- productive relations-- disappears;

The issue here is what is meant by "essential" in this context. As
seen above, Mike's usage is tautological. If one removes the
tautology, one gets the result--which I've argued since the first Ch.
5 exchange on PEN-L--that KRP is in general necessary at most for
*maximal realization* of capitalist exploitation, rather than its

> 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 agree, and I have never described it as such. Rather I have
followed Marx's usage in characterizing these cases as instances of
capitalist *exploitation*.

> (Gil has offered to provide some passages from Marx on
> worker cooperatives which support his conclusions, and I
> hope he will do so.)

Mike probably knows these passages better than I do, but here goes.
The key one I have in mind is from Volume III of Capital, p. 512:

"From the published accounts of the cooperative factories in England,
we can see that--after deducting the wages of the manager...--their
profit was greater than the average, *even though they sometimes paid
a much higher interest than private factories did.*

In other words, capitalists were able not only to appropriate the
[positive] going rate of interest on the basis of cooperative worker
ownership, but were able in some cases to extract "a much higher

See you Wednesday. In solidarity, Gil