[OPE-L:1917] Re: "actually existing capitalism"

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Tue, 23 Apr 1996 14:44:55 -0700

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Here I follow up on my summarized argument and respond to the
specifics of Fred's post [1788]. Fred writes:

> 1. One of the main disagreements between Gil and I continues to be whether
> or not Marx's assumption stated at the end of Chapter 5 - that individual
> are equal to their values - is essential to Marx's theory of surplus-value,
> and hence to his derivation of the necessity of labor-power in Chapter 6. I
> am not going to rehash all the arguments on this issue made in previous
> posts. Gil's argument depends primarily on a simple interpretation of "what
> Marx actually said."

Whether or not it's "simple", it's *not* an 'interpretation', because
my argument *is* based on "what Marx actually said", as I have verified
by quoting the passages directly from Marx. I have also pointed out
where alternative passages quoted by Fred either a)are abutted by statements
which support my position or b) contain statements which are inconsistent
with Fred's position, as in the passage he cites where Marx suggests that "prices
are regulated by the average price, i.e. ultimately by the value of
the commodities." The notion that individual commodity prices are
regulated by their corresponding values does not follow from an
aggregate or "macro" conception of value theory.

> I have argued that the meaning of this assumption
> stated at the end of Chapter 5 can be understood only within a general
> interpretation of Marx's logical method in Capital, and have presented a
> macro "capital in general" interpretation of Volume 1, in terms of which
> Marx's provisional assumption in Volume 1 that the prices of individual
> commodities are equal to their values, plays no essential role in Marx's
> theory of the aggregate amount of surplus-value.

I do not deny that such an alternative, 'macro' interpretation of
Marx's value theory exists, and that such is *consistent* with Marx's
Volume I account. But manifestly Marx's stipulation of price-value
equivalence is not a "provisional assumption", it is a methodological
*result* (albeit an invalid one), as Marx states explicitly at the
end of Ch 5 and confirms in the ensuing footnote, at the beginning of
Ch. 6, and in at least one other passage. See below.

Furthermore, whether or not this stipulation is "essential...in
Marx's theory of the aggregate amount of surplus value" is not at
issue. Rather the issue is whether the stipulation of price-value
equivalence is essential to Marx's Volume I conclusion as to the
necessity for or centrality to capitalist exploitation of wage labor
employed in capitalist production. More on that below.

> This interpretation is not an elaborate, ad hoc justification to explain the
> meaning of this one sentence at the end of Chapter 5,

Whether or not it is "elaborate" (doubtful), my argument is not "ad
hoc", it's not a "justification", and it does not depend on the
"meaning of...one sentence...". There are rather two sentences at
the end of the body of Ch. 5; an extended justification for the
stipulation in the closing footnote of Ch. 5; a reaffirmation at the
beginning of Ch. 6 ("The change *must therefore* take place in the
commodity which is bought in the first act of circulation, M-C,
...*for it is equivalents which are being exchanged*, and the
commodity is paid for at its full value"--emphasis added); and just
in case anybody missed the point, the following shout from the rooftops in
VALUE PRICE AND PROFIT: "To explain, therefore, the *general nature
of profits*, you must start from the theorem that, on an average,
commodities are *sold at their real values*, and that *profits are
derived from selling them at their values*, that is, in proportion to
the quantity of labour realised in them. **If you cannot explain
profit upon this supposition, you cannot explain it at all.**"
[Final emphasis added.]

This does not sound like a "provisional assumption."

> but is instead a general interpretation
> that I have been putting forward for the last 5 years or so, which is based
> on considerable textual evidence, and which is based on earlier work by
> Rosdolsky and Mattick, and also to some extent on Foley's work on the
> circuits of the aggregate capital (Duncan of course bears no responsibility
> for these remarks; he can speak for himself).

For what it's worth, I've been putting forward my argument for 4
years (as Mike can attest), and it's based *entirely* on textual
evidence, and does not rely at all on someone else's *interpretations* of
what Marx wrote. The critique is based on what Marx actually wrote.

> 2. But the main point I wish to emphasize in this post is that I now
> realize more clearly that Gil and I have significantly different meanings of
> "actually existing capitalism", so that our apparent agreement that Marx's
> subject at the beginning of Capital is "actually existing capitalism" turns
> out to be only partial. We agree that Marx's subject at the beginning of
> Capital is not "simple commodity production", as a hypothetical or actual
> historical mode of production. However, we disagree about whether or not
> "actually existing capitalism" includes, besides the capitalist mode of
> production, also other non-capitalist modes of production that coexist with
> the capitalist mode of production within modern capitalist society (such as
> workers' cooperatives). This point is crucial to the interpretation of
> Chapters 5 and 6, so I want to explore it further.

This usage suggests that Fred equates the terms "capitalist mode of
production" and "capitalist production". But Marx manifestly does
not. Consider this passage I've quoted earlier from a key step in
Marx's historical-materialist analysis of capitalist exploitation in Volume
III: "Concealed in this idea, moreover, is the still greater nonsense
that...the capitalist mode of production could proceed on its course
without capitalist production." The reason Marx considers this
hypothesis "nonsense" is, as I've argued, historical-strategic rather
than value-theoretic in character. The key point is that Marx
explicitly distinguishes the two terms, contrary to Fred's usage.

> The main issue here is not the precise definition of the term "actually
> existing capitalism" (which is not Marx's term),

Nor is it mine. I borrowed it from someone else's phrasing.
Again, my argument is based on what Marx wrote: in the first sentence of
Volume I he announces a focus on "the capitalist mode of production" (CMP),
and not for example "capitalist production" (CP) in particular. Based on
contextual clues, for what it's worth, by CMP Marx means the mode
based on the existence of a class "free in the double sense", and
involving production techniques which make use of social labor, in
the sense of Vol I, chs 13-15. But this *of itself* does not entail
*capitalist production*, i.e. production directly controlled by
capitalists in at least the sense of formal subsumption. Marx
confirms this when he discusses worker cooperatives within the
general rubric of the CMP.

> but whether or not the
> subject of Marx's theory at the beginning of Capital includes only the
> capitalist mode of production or also includes non-capitalist modes of
> production. I would be happy to accept Gil's definition of "actually
> existing capitalism", but I would continue to insist that THE SUBJECT OF

Granting this does not imply a specific and sole focus on *capitalist
production*; see above. Furthermore, even if it did, Marx's
argument would still be fallacious, since on such a basis it couldn't
possibly establish the *necessity* of capitalist production using
wage labor for capitalist exploitation, as we've agreed must be done;
see below.

> I have been trying to argue this ever
> since my first post on the Chapter 5 debate (1126), but I guess I have not
> been clear enough. I hope I am being clear enough now.

Fred, I'm happy to say your argument has been clear from the
beginning. But it does not refute any of my conclusions concerning
the invalidity of Marx's value-theoretic argument.

> There is much textual evidence to support this interpretation that Marx's
> subject from the very beginning of Capital is the capitalist mode of
> production, specifically and solely. In the Preface to the First Edition of
> Capital, Marx said explicitly:
>What I have to examine in this work is the capitalist mode of production,
>and the relations of production and forms of intercourse that correspond
> to it. (C.I. 90)

Grant this. It doesn't change any aspect of my argument. See above
and below.

> The phrase "and the relations of production ... that correspond to it"
> indicates that what Marx meant by "the capitalist mode of production" is the
> mode of production based on the specific capital / wage-labor relation.

It does not. That's precisely the specification he would have had to
add if he meant to equate the "capitalist mode of production" with
"capitalist production", and he quite glaringly does not do so. This
supports my interpretation, not Fred's.

> In addition there are a number of passages throughout the various drafts of
> Capital in which Marx said explicitly that the commodity he analyzes in
> Chapter 1 of Volume 1 is a product of the capitalist mode of production and
> that the "simple commodity circulation" that he analyzes in Part 1 is an
> abstract sphere of the capitalist mode of production, thereby clearly
> indicating that his subject from the beginning of Capital is the capitalist
> mode of production. Everyone is familiar with the first sentence of
> Chapter 1, in which the commodity is introduced as the form of the product
> of the capitalist mode of production.

Same arguments as above.

> A less well-known passage is the
> following from the "Urtext", the draft of Chapters 2 and 3 of Volume 1 which
> Marx wrote in 1858, immediately after finishing the Grundrisse (published in
> English for the first time in 1987 in the Marx-Engels Collected Works, vol.
> 29, pp. 430-507):

> At this point, however, we have nothing to do with the historical
> transition of circulation into capital.

Nor do I. For example, interest capital extended to worker
cooperatives operating in the capitalist era does not involve any
such "historical transition".

> The simple circulation is,
> rather, an abstract sphere of the bourgeois process of production as
> a whole, which through its own determinations shows itself to be
> a moment,
> a mere form of appearance of some deeper process lying behind it,
> even resulting from it and producing it - industrial capital.
> (MECW.29. 482)

Yes it is that among other things. Note what Marx *does not say* in
this passage: that surplus value can *only* arise from capitalist
production based on wage labor. Thus this does not in the least
challenge my point.

> Later, in the 1861-63 manuscript, Marx wrote:
> We start from the *commodity*, this specific social form of the product,
> as the foundation and prerequisite of capitalist production. ... [T]he
> *prerequisite*, the *starting-point*, of the formation of capital and the
> capitalist mode of production is the development of the product of the
> product into a commodity ... It is as such a prerequisite that we treat
> the commodity, since we proceed from it as the simplest element of
> capitalist production. On the other hand, the product, the result of
> capitalist production, is the commodity. What appears as the element is
> later revealed to be its own product. (TSV.III. 112)

Accurate but not restrictive, and thus consistent with my argument.
That the commodity is the "prerequisite", the "starting point" of
*capitalist production* follows from the fact that it is a prerequisite for
the *capitalist mode of production*, since the latter is a more general term.
But even this follows in turn from the fact that the commodity is a prerequisite
for *any* circuit of capital, including usury capital:

"Usurer's capital requires nothing more for its existence than that
at least a portion of the products is transformed into commodities
and that money in its various functions develops concurrently with
trade in commodities." [III, 728]

Thus, nothing in the logical content of this passage contradicts my
argument. For example, the claim that "a prerequisite for being at
Wesleyan University is being in Middletown CT" is consistent with "a
prerequisite for being at Wesleyan University is being in CT" is
consistent with " a prerequisite for being at Wesleyan University is
being in the United States".

>We have started with money as the converted form of the commodity.
> What we arrive at [at the end of volume 3; fm] is *money as the converted
>capital* [i.e. interest-bearing capital; fm], just as we have perceived
> that the commodity is the precondition and the result of the production
>process of capital. (TSV.III. 467)

Same argument as above.

> Later still, in the "Results of the Immediate Process of Production"
> manuscript, written in 1864, Marx discussed at length the fact that the
> commodity with which he began in Chapter 1 is the "elementary premiss" of
> capitalist production.
> On the first page of Part I of this manuscript, Marx wrote:
> [I]f we consider societies where *capitalist production* is *highly
> developed*, we find that the commodity is both the constant elementary
> premiss (precondition) of capital and also the immediate result of the
> capitalist process of production. (C.I. 949)
> And a little further:
> The *commodity* that emerges from capitalist production is different from
> the commodity we began with as the element, the precondition of capitalist
> production.
> And later in this manuscript:
> We began with the commodity, with this specific social form of the product
> - for it is the foundation and premiss of capitalist production. ... We
> regard the commodity as just such a premiss and proceed from the commodity
> as capitalist production in its simplest form. On the other hand, however,
> the *commodity* is a product, a result of capitalist production. What
> began as one of its components turns out later to be its own product.

Same argument as above.

> Only
> on the basis of capitalist production will the commodity become the general
> form of the product. (C.I. 1059-60)

Ah, now, this is different. But to the extent this claim has any
content, it is so for historical-materialist reasons, not
value-theoretic ones, and thus this passage is entirely consistent
with my argument, which recall is specifically against Marx's
value-theoretic conclusion at the end of Ch. 5. The above claim does
not flow from the stipulation that all commodities exchange at their
respective values.

> Finally, in one of the Volume 2 manuscripts, written in the 1870s, Marx
> commented on Adam Smith's logical method and on the appropriate logical method:
>The commodities Smith is dealing with here are commodity capital from
> the start (and therefore include surplus-value as well as the capital value
>consumed in production), i.e. they are commodities produced in the
>capitalist manner, the result of the capitalist production process. This
> last should therefore have been the object of prior analysis, together with
>the process of valorization and value formation that it involves. And
> since the very presupposition of this is in turn commodity circulation, its
> presentation also requires, therefore, an independent and prior analysis
>of the commodity. (C.II. 465)

Same arguments as above.

> Therefore, throughout the various drafts of Capital, Marx was consistently
> clear that the commodity which he analyzes in Chapter 1 is the premiss and
> the product of the capitalist mode of production.

Agreed, but *of itself* this can have no impact on the current
argument, because 1) the same commodity is also necessarily the
premise of any circuit of capital, including those which might
precede the capitalist mode of production, as verified by the passage
I cite from Volume III; 2) "the capitalist mode of production" is not
synonymous with "capitalist production" (see above); and 3) even if
it were, Marx's value-theoretic argument would still be invalid,
since in that case it *could not possibly* establish the *necessity*
of capitalist production for capitalist exploitation, as we have
agreed Marx's argument must do (see below).

> On the other hand, there is NO textual evidence to support Gil's
> interpretation that Marx's subject at the beginning of Capital included
> non-capitalist modes of production.

1) This statement equates "mode of production" with "form of
ownership of production", an equation we have seen--from the textual
evidence--that Marx does not make. That Marx does not do so is
corroborated by the fact that he considers "hybrid" forms without
straying from the overarching rubric of the capitalist mode of

2) Granting the point entirely, it remains the case that Marx's
value-theoretic Ch. 5 argument as to the necessity for capitalist
exploitation of capitalist production based on wage labor is invalid,
for reasons that have been untouched in this exchange.

> 3. From the above understanding of the subject of Part 1 of Volume 1 -
> the abstract sphere of circulation of the capitalist mode of production -
> it follows that Marx's theory of surplus-value introduced in Part 2 has to
> do with the surplus-value produced within the capitalist mode of production,
> and is not concerned at all with non-capitalist modes of production as
> possible sources of surplus-value. Therefore, Gil's criticism of Marx's
> argument in Chapter 5 - that Marx failed to consider the possibility of
> capitalists appropriating surplus-value from other modes of production - is
> invalid.

Certainly not. Indeed, granting Fred's interpretation of Marx's
account, my argument becomes even more salient. If in fact Marx
rules out _ex ante_ relations of production other than those based specifically
on capitalist production, then he *cannot possibly* establish the
*necessity* for capitalist exploitation of capitalist production
based on wage labor, other than as a simple tautology, true by
definition, since any non-tautological demonstration must allow at least
the possibility of alternative forms. Put it the other way around:
showing that capitalist exploitation *can* flow from such production
conditions does not imply that it *must* flow from such relations.

Furthermore, note Fred's conclusion depends on his equation of CP and
CMP, an equation Marx does not make.

But this is all ultimately beside the point. The fact remains that Marx
*analytically* justifies his exclusive focus on the purchase and
subsumption of wage labor as the basis for capitalist exploitation
via reference to the stipulation that the account of surplus value
*must* proceed on the basis of price-value equivalence.

> Marx's prior specification of the subject of his theory - as
> documented above - ruled out by assumption the possibility of appropriating
> surplus-value from non-capitalist modes of production. His theory is
> concerned solely with surplus-value produced and appropriated within the
> capitalist mode of production.

See comments above.

> Under this specification, Marx's argument
> that "the capitalist class as a whole cannot defraud itself" is valid.

This does not follow. Whether or not Marx restricts attention to the
capitalist mode of production (however defined) in Volume I, that
"the capitalist class as a whole cannot defraud itself" is utterly
beside the point--the question is whether it could defraud *some
other* class.

> Individual divergences of prices from values do not affect the total amount
> of surplus-value produced and appropriated within the capitalist mode of
> production and hence can be ignored in an analysis of this total amount of
> surplus-value.

First, granting this does not in any way make the claim that "the
capitalist class as a whole cannot defraud itself" relevant. Second,
this statement depends on a definitional equation of CMP and CP which
Marx evidently does not make.

> Similarly, Gil's criticism of Marx's argument for the necessity of
> labor-power in Chapter 6 is also invalid; i.e. Marx's argument is valid.
> Gil's criticism is that labor-power is not the ONLY possible source of
> surplus-value and that Marx failed to justify his exclusive focus on
> labor-power in Chapter 6 and beyond.

No, this is *not* my criticism, and never has been. *Of course* labor
power is the only possible source of surplus-value; this follows from
Marx's definition of the latter as the valorization of value, as opposed to
redistribution of existing value. Rather, my criticism is that as a
matter of logic capitalist appropriation of the use-value of labor power does not
require the purchase of the commodity labor power and its subsumption
under capitalist production. Marx's Volume I conclusion
that such a requirement flows from the observation that surplus value
cannot be explained on the basis of simple circulation, **taken
alone** is manifestly invalid. Contrary to Fred's assertion this
criticism is unaffected by his arguments.

> However, we have seen above Marx's
> prior specification of the subject of his theory as the capitalist mode of
> production has already ruled consideration of other possible modes of
> production and other possible sources of surplus-value. Marx's argument is
> completely valid: considering only the capitalist mode of production and on
> the assumption of the labor theory of value introduced in Chapter 1, the
> only possible source of additional value, and hence of surplus-value, is
> labor-power or the capacity for additional labor.

What Fred is saying is this: suppose that by fiat we only permit
capitalist exploitation based on capitalist production. Then capitalist
production is necessary for the existence of capitalist exploitation.
This conclusion is "valid" on the sole basis of being strictly
tautological: **of course** capitalist production is necessary, if
it's the only possibility allowed!

But that's beside the point, because that is not Marx's argument.
Marx's argument, as affirmed quite pointedly in the VALUE PRICE AND
PROFIT passage, is based on the (invalidly derived) stipulation that surplus
value be explained on the basis that all commodities exchange at
their respective values. And again, Fred's argument is based on the
presupposition that Marx equates "capitalist production" with "the
capitalist mode of production."

> 4. In sum, Gil's criticism of Marx's arguments in Chapters 5 and 6 hinges
> critically on Gil's interpretation that Marx's theory is these chapters is
> concerned with "actually existing capitalism", which he defines as including
> non-capitalist modes of production.

Absolutely not, for at least 3 reasons detailed above.

> Gil's criticism is essentially that,
> after having included non-capitalist modes of production in the subject of
> his theory, Marx failed to rule out the possibility of surplus-value arising
> from these non-capitalist modes of production.

This is absolutely not the basis of my criticism, for at least three
reasons given above.

> But I have presented
> considerable textual evidence to support the opposite
>interpretation: that > MARX'S THEORY FROM THE BEGINNING IN

1) But not specifically and solely *capitalist production*. Marx,
unlike Fred, manifestly does not equate the two terms.

2) And even if he did, one cannot possibly establish the *necessity*
for capitalist exploitation of capitalist production based on wage
labor by eliminating all other possibilities from consideration by
fiat. Any such conclusion would be "valid" solely by virtue of being
tautological. This point alone should be enough to reject Fred's
interpretation of Marx's argument.

3) And in any case, this is beside the point. Marx's *actual*
argument, stated explicitly in Ch. 5, reasserted at the beginning of
Ch. 6, and firmly corroborated in VP &P, is based on the (invalid)
conclusion that surplus value must be explained on the basis of
price-value equivalence. The invalidity of *this* argument,
unchallenged by Fred, is the basis of "Mike and Gil's surprising

> This simple but fundamental point renders Gil's criticisms invalid.

For the foregoing reasons, I must beg to differ. But lest we lose
the forest for the trees, let me return to the starting point of this
exchange, initiated several months ago. My argument is not with
Fred's aggregate or "macro" interpretation of value theory, except to
point out that it cannot possibly establish the necessity for
capitalist exploitation of capitalist production based on the
purchase of wage labor, for reasons given above. Otherwise, this
approach has compelling analytical features, which Fred has
spelled out in his published work.

However, this approach is manifestly *not* Marx's basis for
his account of surplus value in Volume I. This assessment is
repeatedly, emphatically, and unambiguously affirmed by Marx's own

In solidarity, Gil