[OPE-L:1421] RE: formal subsumption and the totality

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Mon, 11 Mar 1996 02:08:26 -0800

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In 1311, Gil responded to my argument in 1219 that where there is only
formal subsumption, the accumulation of capital (as Marx discusses in Ch.
33) will drive up wages and allow workers to extract themselves from

> 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.

I'm not certain about this symmetry. Take a case of merely formal
subsumption (which we agree Ch 25, section 1 is considering)--- eg., the
case of domestic producers within the putting-out system, where these
producers obtain their raw materials from merchants and the merchants have
property rights in the products produced. (This is a case where merchants
have "seized possession of production" but have not altered the mode of
production from that which prevailed for independent craft-workers.) The
argument that I was making is that, in this situation in which alterations
in the mode of production are precluded, capital accumulation by driving up
wages will permit craftworkers to reduce their dependence upon the
putting-out merchants and to produce commodities directly for the market.
(Smith refers to such a development, when he talks about what happens in
"cheap years".) What is happening here is a tendency toward the
non-reproduction of capitalist relations--- both because profits fall (the
Ch. 25, s1 story) and also because of the non-reproduction of
wage-labourers. If this is what is occurring, however, I don't see why
reduced accumulation of capital by those putting-out merchants will drive
the now-independent commodity producers back into their relation of
dependence upon capital. (I don't think that is consistent with Marx's
discussion in Ch. 33.) In this case, while the putting-out merchants may be
facing a "bust", it is not necessarily true of those outside capitalist
relations (which may be booming).
All of this would then reinforce the impulse to move toward real
subsumption--- which is quite consistent with Gil's focus upon
historical-strategic questions. Again, I think the discussion of Ch 25, s1
is one-sided precisely because it does not consider the side of workers in
this situation in which changes in the mode of production are precluded.
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
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e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca