[OPE-L:1913] Re: "actually existing capitalism"

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Tue, 23 Apr 1996 12:29:09 -0700

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Thanks, Fred, for your detailed response [#1788]. Sorry for the
delay in getting back to you.

Precis of my reply:

1) You suggest that the central contrast at issue re "Mike and Gil's
surprising agreement" concerns my "simple interpretation of 'what
Marx actually said'...an elaborate, ad hoc justification to explain
the meaning of this one sentence at the end of Chapter 5" versus a
"a general interpretation of Marx's logical method in Capital",
involving your "macro 'capital in general' interpretation of Vol. 1."

I disagree that this is what as issue. First, I don't deny that Marx
has a "macro" or aggregate interpretation of his value theory (as
confirmed, for example, by Marx's letter to Kugelmann). But Marx
manifestly does not invoke this interpretation in deriving his
"double result" at the end of Ch. 5, which he elaborates on in the
final footnote, re-affirms at the beginning of Ch. 6, and amplifies
unambiguously in separate writings. Thus, whether or or not my
reading is "simple", it is indeed based on what Marx actually said,
over and over, and is thus not "ad hoc" and is certainly not based on
an interpretation of "one sentence." If we both agree that what Marx
actually (and repeatedly) (and emphatically) said is invalid, then
we have achieved "Fred and Mike and Gil's surprising agreement."

However, as explained earlier, and elaborated upon in pt. 3 below,
the aggregate approach *cannot possibly* establish the *necessity* for
capitalist exploitation of the purchase and consumption of labor power
within the capitalist mode of production, and we have agreed earlier that
Marx must establish just such a necessary basis.

2) Your usage suggests that you equate "capitalist production" and
"capitalist mode of production". But although Marx is somewhat
inconsistent on this score, he quite explicitly distinguishes the two
concepts in at least one key passage explicating his
historical-materialist theory of capitalist exploitation. For Marx,
the term "capitalist mode of production" is evidently broader in scope
than "capitalist production", in the sense that the latter is simply one
possible strategic option within the rubric of the former. Thus,
despite the fact that Marx announces an explicit focus on "the
capitalist mode of production" at the beginning of Vol. I, this may
still encompass production arrangements other than capitalist
production _per se_. Thus Marx does not obviously rule out these
alternative possibilities by fiat, and thus the centrality to
capitalist exploitation of the purchase and consumption of labor
power within capitalist production must still be established, as I
have argued.

3) But even if I grant without caveat that a) Marx's Volume I account
is based entirely on an aggregate notion of value and b) Marx uses "capitalist
mode of production" and "capitalist production" as synomyms, it
remains the case that the *necessity* for capitalist exploitation of the
purchase and consumption of labor power under capitalist production
cannot possibly be established on this basis. The reason is
straightforward: no argument concerning necessity of one particular
form can possibly be established when all potential alternatives to
that form have been ruled out _ex ante_ by fiat! Furthermore, the
aggregate approach to value cannot possibly establish the necessity of
wage labor and capitalist production for capitalist exploitation, for
the simple reason that the existence of aggregate surplus value is also
supported by circuits of capital which do not involve wage labor or
capitalist production, as Marx repeatedly, emphatically, and
unambiguously confirms across ten years of writing on political economy

This "precis" is already long. To avoid overburdening fellow
OPE-L'rs who are not interested in the details of the argument, I
post this now and deal with specifics in the next post.

In solidarity, Gil