[OPE-L:1534] Re: surprising agreement?

Fred Moseley (fmoseley@laneta.apc.org)
Sun, 24 Mar 1996 09:06:31 -0800

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Thanks to Mike for his clarifying post (1522).

1. I think the key issue between us is the following: Mike begins by
agreeing with me (and Jerry) that "capitalism is the subject of Capital"
from the very beginning. And yet he then interprets the general formula for
capital, M-C-M', as being more general than capitalism and possibly applying
to non-capitalist modes of production. From this general interpretation of
capital follows Mike's crucial question: is there a logical leap in the
transition from the concept from capital to the concept of labor-power,
i.e.does capital necessarily imply capitalist production?

However, if the subject of Capital is capitalism from the beginning in
Chapter 1, then all the concepts developed in the first two parts of Capital
apply specifically and solely to capitalist production (although these
concepts may be defined by others in more general ways). This historically
specific restriction applies to Marx's concept of capital, which refers to
capital WITHIN CAPITALIST PRODUCTION. To repeat what I said in (1469):
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 a
profit? This limitation requires that the answer to this question must be
an element of actually existing capitalism.

Mike seems to be saying both that capitalism is assumed from the beginning
and that capitalism has to be derived. I don't get it. If capitalism is
assumed from the beginning, why does it have to be derived?

Another passage from the Grundrisse Introduction on the "Method of Political
Economy" (besides the one I quoted in 1469), is even clearer on this key
point that the concepts in Marx's theory apply specifically and solely to
the capitalist mode of production:

In the succession of the economic categories, as in any other historical,
social science, it must not be forgotten that their subject - here, modern
bourgeois society - is always what is given, in the head as well as in
reality, and that these categories therefore express the forms of being,
the characteristics of existence, and often only individual sides, of this
specific society, this subject ... (G. 106)

The main point of this introduction on method is that the succession of
economic categories depends on their relation within capitalist society and
not on the chronological order of their historical emergence. Marx
emphaized repeatedly that the subject - modern bourgeois society - must
always be kept in mind.

2. Mike argued:

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

Is it not true that to assume capitalism from the beginning in Chapter 1 -
which we all seem to agree Marx did - is "to assume that these have
occurred"? What else does it mean to say that capitalism is assumed from
the beginning? Capitalism is not "dropped from the sky" in Chapter 6.
Instead, capitalism is assumed from the beginning.

3. Further evidence that Marx's concept of capital applies specifically and
solely to capitalist production is Marx's discussion of merchant capital and
interest-bearing capital in Chapter 5 and in Volume 3. There forms of
capital are discussed, not as forms of capital related to non-capitalist
forms of production, but rather as forms of capital within capitalism, as
"secondary" forms which are derived from the primary form of industrial
capital, i.e. capital invested in capitalist production.

4. Mike also asked whether anybody has answered Gil's critique that Marx's
argument in Chapter 5 that "the capitalist class as a whole cannot defraud
itself" is mistaken because the capitalist class can defraud another class
and thereby appropriate surplus-value. I have answered this critique as

I have argued, and Gil has indicated that he agrees or at least is willing
to accept, that Marx's theory from the beginning of Capital - and in
Chapter 5 - is about the capitalist mode of production. Hence Marx ruled
out by assumption the possibility of appropriating surplus-value from non-
capitalist modes of production. His analysis is concerned solely with
surplus-value produced and appropriated within the capitalist mode of
production. Therefore, under this assumption, Marx's argument that "the
capitalist class as a whole cannot defraud itself" is valid.

(Unfortunately I lost track of the post number from which this comes. It
was toward the end of February and I think the number was around 1200).

Again, the validity of Marx's argument in Chapter 5 that the capitalist
class as a whole cannot defraud itself, like the validity of the argument in
Chapter 6 of the necessity of labor-power, depends on the prior
specification that the subject of Marx's theory is capitalism. Gil's and
Mike's critiques seem to disallow this prior restriction and then to accuse
Marx of making a "logical leap". This is a "dirty trick". On the basis of
Marx's own logical method, there is no logical leap, but a simple logical
deduction from the labor theory of value.