[OPE-L:1420] definitions and capitalist relations of production

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Mon, 11 Mar 1996 02:08:19 -0800

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Some of my disagreement with Gil appears to stem from our definitions. I
argued, for example:

>> 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

Gil responded in 1309, however, that my argument was tautological:

> 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.
I probably was not as careful in my wording as I should have been to
avoid misunderstanding. Define capitalist relations (B) as above. Then, the
argument is simply that the purchase of labour-power (A) is necessary for
(B). My point was that insofar as Marx was concerned to explore only the
tendencies, laws of motion, etc inherent in B, he considered only A (even
though A is not the only option where there are differential property
endowments). This is not a tautology.
Gil, however, does not accept this definition of capitalist relations of

> 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.
Here, however, is the nub of the argument that Gil has been advancing,
buttressed by quotations from Marx talking about, eg, usurer's capital as
having "capital's mode of exploitation without its mode of production" (Vol
III, 732, Penguin):

> 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.

Is "capitalist exploitation", though, the same as exploitation by
capitalists? In developed capitalism, there is exploitation of simple
commodity producers by capital via unequal exchange, monopoly pricing, etc.
I think such exploitation needs to be distinguished from capitalist
exploitation much in the same way as original accumulation and accumulation
within capitalist relations are distinguished. Indeed, Marx's discussion
of usurer's capital in Vol III, Ch. 36 is explicitly one of "pre-capitalist
relations" (which is the title of the chapter!) and thus usurer's capital
seems to be a rather poor candidate for a definition of

'"capitalist relations" as relations of
*capitalist exploitation*, defined (following Marx) as the
appropriation of surplus value based on some circuit of capital.'

Simply stated, I think we need to understand by "capitalist
exploitation"--- exploitation which occurs within and through and because of
capitalist relations of production; and we need to distinguish this from
exploitation such as that by merchants and usurers (merchant capital and
usurer's capital), which occurs via the sphere of circulation. Gil may
regard this as a definitional coup (and, indeed, I think such a definition
would undercut much of his argument), but seeking precision in definitions
is a step forward rather than back.
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