[OPE-L:1311] Re: formal subsumption and the totality

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Mon, 4 Mar 1996 17:36:40 -0800

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A short response to Mike's post 1219, which addresses the general
question of the necessity of real subsumption for the normal
reproduction of capitalism. I suggested in response to Mike's
initial argument that the process of capitalist accumulation
identified by Marx in the first section of Ch. 25 would be sufficient
to reproduce a rate of profit and thus exploitation consistent with
the formal subsumption of labor under capital.

Mike argues that this argument only works taken by itself, and that
if instead one combines it with Marx's analysis in Ch. 33, the
appropriate implication would be that "the accumulation of capital
increases the demand for labor, drives wages up and allows workers to
extract themselves from wage-labour..."

This is a valid possibility, but I think there's necessarily a second side to the
argument. What drives Marx's analysis of accumulation in section 1 are
*relative* rates of growth of demand for and supply of labor, where the
latter is taken as exogenous (in opposition to Malthus). In the boom part of
the cycle, yes, wages go up, but in the bust part of the cycle, they drop. The
effect on balance? I need only quote Marx from section 1 of Ch. 25:

"The rise of wages is therefore confined within limits that not only
*leave intact the foundations of the capitalist system* , but also secure
its reproduction on an increasing scale. The law of capitalist exploitation
...in fact expresses the situation that the very nature of accumulation *excludes
every diminution in the degree of exploitation of labour, and every rise in the
price of labour, which could seriously imperil the continual reproduction, on
an ever larger scale, of the capital relation.*" [I, 771-2; my emphasis]

Taken a step further, this cyclical argument also applies to the
analysis Mike adduces from Ch. 33: the bust part of the business
cycle should drive out small producers (and especially newly
established small producers) first. So what the boom part of the
cycle giveth, according to Mike's argument, the bust part of the
cycle correspondingly taketh away, rendering Marx's conclusion
(passage quoted above) intact.

Finally, recall Marx's analysis of historical circuits of capital
(summarized in my previous post) which suggests on independent
grounds that any such class of new small property-owners would not
reproduce itself stably.

In concluding I cannot neglect to mention that the foregoing considerations
are essentially historical-materialist in nature, and rely in no
central way on value-theoretic categories, as can be seen from the
fact that neither Mike nor I had to invoke these categories here to
make our meaning clear.

In solidarity, Gil