[OPE-L:1522] Re: surprising agreement?

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Wed, 20 Mar 1996 02:23:35 -0800

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Unfortunately, it has taken me a while to get back to the responses by
Fred and Jerry to my note about Gil's and my "surprising agreement". Both
made the same basic point, but I'll respond to Fred because he spelled out
the points more extensively.

In message Wed, 13 Mar 1996 22:59:07 -0800,
Fred Moseley <fmoseley@laneta.apc.org> writes:

> In (1469), Mike asked:
>> 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.)
>> If you *don't* agree, please explain to Gil and me exactly what the
>> logical argument is--- so we don't go on from here to even greater
>> errors (if that's possible). It is the comradely thing to do, no?
> I really don't have the time to adequately answer this question before I
> leave for Boston at 6 am in the morning. But I want to try to make a
> brief response while the question is before us.
> My brief response is NO - I do not agree with the statement: "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*".
> My brief reasoning is the following:
> 1. I have emphasized on several occasions that Marx's subject from the
> very beginning of Capital is capitalism. Marx is not trying to explain
> the historical emergence of capitalism or derive the necessity of
> capitalism from general commodity production, but is instead analyzing
> actually existing capitalism ("modern bourgeios society" as Marx often
> called it).
> To quote just one brief passage (among many) in which Marx made this point
> (from the introduction on the "method of political economy" in the
> Grundrisse):
> Capital is the all-dominating economic power of *bourgeois society*.
> It must form the starting-point as well as the finishing-point [of a
> theory of bourgeois society; FM), and must be dealt with before
> landed property. (G. 107; emphasis added)
> Here it is clear that the "capital" Marx was talking about is the capital

This is the point that Jerry made as well. However, I do not dispute
this at all! Capitalism is the subject. Marx says so right at the outset.
This means that we are not concerned as such with a historical discussion of
the actual emergence of capital and that the order of categories is the
logical order rather than the historical order (although the latter may
fortuitously coincide). Having recognised that we are looking at capitalism
as an organic system (on which Fred and I agreed earlier, I think), the
question becomes how to do so. Obviously, the choice of starting point and
the order of categories is not random (any more than it was for Hegel). It
was not obvious that the starting point to understand capitalism as an
organic system is the commodity, nor was it obvious that to understand
capital it is necessary to first understand money--- both were conclusions
at which Marx arrived only after much struggle and false starts. What we can
see is the great care which Marx took to develop his categories
systematically out of the preceding ones; what was to be rejected completely
was the manner of Ricardo's reasoning--- where a category like the rate of
profit drops from the sky into his Ch. 1 argument well before the concept of
profit has itself been developed. It is that step-by-step logical procedure
that ensures that the categories are part of the whole, that they are not
externally, contingently related.
The question that Gil and I (coming from quite different places and
traditions) were asking, then, is whether there is a gap in the logical
treatment, a logical leap. Eg., we agree that the commodity comes before
money, that we can't understand money without the commodity but that we can
(provisionally) understand commodity without money, and that money is
implicit in the commodity. Similarly, the same holds with respect to the
relation of money (and commodity) and capital. Ie., we make our way
logically to M-C-M'. The question for me is how do we make our way
*logically* from M-C-M' to capitalist relations of production (which I
define as one in which labour-power is purchased by the capitalist)? (We
know how he did it in the Grundrisse and the 1861-3 Mss--- which I noted in
1234, but how does he do it in Capital and, indeed, *does* he do it?) Again,
let me stress that if capitalist relations of production are *not* implicit
and latent in M-C-M', then this has some relevance to discussions of market
socialism. (The last time I raised this, I was sure it would get a rise out
of someone.)

Fred replies that this is a simple question--- that it follows from the
labour theory of value itself that there *must* be the buying and selling of
labour-power for there to be surplus value.

>When Marx
> asked the question in Chapters 5 and 6 - "how can capital make a profit?"
> - he was not asking a general question about all the various possible
> ways in which capital as a general category could make a profit in
> various different modes of production. He was asking a much more
> "historically specific" question: how can capital IN CAPITALISM make
> profit? This limitation requires that the answer to this question must
> be an element of actually existing capitalism.
> 2. Marx's answer to his question follows simply and directly from his the
> labor theory of value presented in Chapter 1, which is the basic
> assumption of Marx's theory thereafter. ACCORDING TO THE LABOR THEORY OF
> VALUE, the source of additional value (and hence of suruplus-value) MUST
> be additional labor. This MUST is certainly dependent on the assumption
> of the labor theory of value, but follows just as certainly from it.
> WITHIN CAPITALISM, additional labor can be provided only by the purchase
> and consumption of labor-power. This is not a "leap" of logic, but is a
> simple logical deduction from the labor theory of value and the
> specification of the subject of the analysis as capitalism. I do not see
> any possible problem with this deduction. And note that this argument is
> VALUE-THEORETIC; i.e. it obviously depends on the labor-theory of value.

I don't think the answer is that simple, however, and don't think Fred
has offered the *only* value-theoretic answer. Marx notes clearly that
before there can be the buying of labour-power, there must first be the
separation of producers from the means of production. We can add to that
another condition, which Marx is not explicit about here, which is that
capital furthermore must have "seized possession" of production (which
precludes labour hiring capital or Roemer's "credit-market island"). Are
these conditions implicit in M-C-M'? I interpret Fred to mean that we
shouldn't worry about such things--- that we just assume that these have
occurred (which is what Jerry says). But, then, what's happened to the
logical development if these are dropped from the sky to enable us to move
from a concept of capital in the sphere of circulation?
Presumably, this is why Ch. 5 became a battleground in that it appears to
serve as the logical transition. Gil asked, however,--- granted that the
capitalist class as a whole cannot defraud itself (thereby generating
surplus value via non-equivalent exchange), why can't we accept that the
capitalist class can defraud/cheat/extract via circulation from *another*
class within society thereby explaining the existence of surplus value? I
can't recall whether anyone has responded to this question directly. My
response, first of all, is that at this point logically in the argument
there *are* no other classes--- there are only possessors of commodities and
possessors of money. The question then becomes--- can there not be a group
of commodity-owners who, for some reason, cannot--- like all other
commodity-owners--- mark-up over the value of their commodities and, if so,
will this not explain the existence of surplus-value?
Now, some will immediately argue that all that is being described here is
a redistribution of value and a redistribution of value as such can not
explain the existence of added value. I agree. But, let me introduce here a
new category (for now, from the sky)--- the concept of the reproduction of
the producer. If a group of commodity producers who within a C-M-C regime
are able to reproduce themselves now faces the necessity to purchase
commodities marked-up over value but cannot go thou and do likewise, the
new condition for meeting their standard of necessity will be to expend
additional labour to sell more commodities. Ie., the condition of existence
for surplus value in this situation will indeed be the expenditure of
additional labour by the producers--- even though our starting point is not
the buying and selling of labour-power. (Here we assume only what has been
established logically to this point but add that these commodity producers,
as human beings, require a certain quantity of means of subsistence--- fill
in the Ch. 6 material here.) Similarly, if means of production have been
separated from those producers and if they are rented back to them, the
surplus value thereby extracted will also be the result of additional labour
performed by the producers in order to both pay the rent/interest and also
reproduce themselves. Developing this point would underline that
the concept of reproduction of the producer reveals that additional labour
by the producer is the necessary condition for sustaining surplus value, ie
that something must happen in production behind the backs of the exchangers.
On the other hand, it could be demonstrated presumably that any such
arrangements for securing surplus value are necessarily contingent and
unstable since they rely upon fortuitous market conditions and, indeed, so
long as the producers were the residual claimants, they could under the
appropriate circumstances extract themselves from these relations in which
they are compelled to perform surplus labour in order to secure their
standard of necessity. Accordingly, the necessary condition for surplus
value and capital to be sustained must be the seizure of production, the
purchase of labour-power--- ie., specifically capitalist relations of
production, which leave capital as owner of the products of labour. (Recall,
too, my earlier argument, drawing upon Marx, that even this condition is not
sufficient for capitalism as an organic system--- ie., that the specifically
capitalist mode of production is required.)
So, there--- a value-theoretic argument, which establishes immediately
that the condition for surplus value is surplus labour by producers, that
demonstrates (presumably) the *necessity* of the buying of labour-power for
capital (rather than assuming it) and that introduces earlier (one chapter
earlier) the concept of the reproduction of the producer. Are the conditions
satisfied? So, again, is there a logical leap in Capital from M-C-M' to
capitalist relations of production? And, I have a new question--- should not
the concept of the reproduction of the producer be introduced earlier than
it is in Capital?
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