[OPE-L:1480] Re: Gil and Mike's Surprising Agreement

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Wed, 13 Mar 1996 08:27:32 -0800

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Jerry writes:

> Replying to Mike L's [1469]:
> > So, I would like now to find out specifically how other people on this
> > list feel about that agreement. Does everyone agree that Marx did *not*
> > establish a case proceeding logically from (A) the concept of capital
> > (M-C-M') to (B) the buying of labour-power--- in the sense that one *must*
> > proceed from A to B rather than one *may*?
> > (I think this captures what we agree upon--- although we may differ over
> > where exactly the logical leap occurred and how important the lapse is. To
> > jog your collective memory, I'll remind you that I argued that if this was
> > true we could not say that capitalist relations of production are implicit
> > in the commodity--- because they require historically specific conditions
> > which are not implicit in the commodity.)
> I think this question relates to a discussion we had some time back
> concerning the starting point, and the subject of investigation, of
> _Capital_. If one believes that the subject of investigation is
> capitalism (as Marx suggests in the first sentence of V1), rather than
> commodity production in general, then one can say not only that the
> transition from "A" to "B" "might" happen, but that it *has*
> happened.

Indeed so, Jerry, but is that enough for Marx's avowed purposes in
Volume I? It's also true that price-value disparities *have* happened,
and indeed are as ubiquitous as the practice of buying labor power.
But Marx discards price-value disparities as "accidental" to the
process of appropriating surplus value, and enshrines the purchase
and subsumption of the commodity labor power as *central* to that
process. However, once one discards the invalid conclusions Mike and
I have referred to, this asymmetric treatment is *utterly arbitrary.*

> Marx's purpose, in Ch. 5 & 6 was not, by my reading, an
> attempt to analyze the "historically specific conditions" related to
> commodity production in general.

Perhaps not to analyze them, but certainly to justify on
value-theoretic grounds the significance of historically specific
capitalist relations of production for capitalist exploitation. Otherwise,
Chapter 5 is simply irrelevant to the rest of the analysis in Volume I.
The valid portion of Ch. 5 is the conclusion that new value cannot be
created in the process of exchange. Of course this is true; it follows
immediately from Marx's definition of surplus value. But this conclusion
bears no implications whatsoever for the connection of price-value
disparities or the purchase and subsumption of labor power to the
process of appropriating surplus value.

> So, even if the above agreement by Mike and Gil was granted, it would
> *simply* suggest that other topics such as a further explanation of
> non-capitalist commodity production need further investigation from a
> historical perspective (which Marx *does* get into near the end of V1,
> but is *not central* to his stated task of describing, ultimately, the
> "economic law of motion" of capitalism).

Well, perhaps the connection is stronger than this. Suppose we
discard Marx's invalid Ch. 5 stipulation that "the transformation of
money into capital" must be explained on the basis of price-value
equivalence. How is Marx's subsequent exclusive *analytical* focus
on the purchase and subsumption of labor power not then a complete
_non sequitur_?

In solidarity, Gil