[OPE-L:2185] Re: Chapter 5

Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Mon, 13 May 1996 15:44:11 -0700

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In response to the following from me,

> However, by itself it [rejecting the notion that albour-power and money are
>commdoities] does not close the resulting gap in Marx's Vol I argument:
>specifically, on what basis does one justify Marx's exclusive focus
>on the purchase and consumption of labor power under capitalist
>production, once one discards the (invalid) claim that surplus value
>appropriation must be explained on the basis of commodity price-value

, Michael W.writes:
>This is too enigmatic for me:
>First some genuine pleas for clarification:
>What exactly is the 'resulting gap'?
>Why do we want to fill it?
>In what sense is Marx's focus on LP 'exclusive'?
>Labour-power is certainly traded, but in what sense is the extraction of labour
>from it in the capitalist labour process 'consumption'? (Or is that just a turn
>of phrase?)

Sorry, didn't mean to be enigmatic. The mysterious passages, I see, refer
to a debate that has gone on since before Michael joined the group. OK,
here is the argument in detail, with the holes filled in:

1) Michael rejects the notion that labor-power and money are commodities.
However, Marx manifestly does not, and it's specifically on the basis of his
(invalid) methodological stipulation that surplus value must be explained on
the basis of price value equivalence for *all* commodities, including labor
power and money, that Marx justifies his focus (beginning in I, Ch. 6) on
the purchase and consumption of labor power under capitalist production.

2) Accepting the postulate that labor-power and money are not commodities,
there is then no logical connection whatsoever between Marx's Ch. 5
conclusions and his analytical focus beginning with Ch. 6. To put it a
different way: capitalist production based on wage labor is ubiquitous
under the capitalist mode of production. But so are price-value
disparities. Yet Marx discards the latter as "accidental" to the
appropriation of surplus value in this mode, while evidently considering the
former as being somehow central to the process. On what basis, established
prior to I, Ch. 6? *Especially* if labor power and money are not considered

3) There *is* a valid basis for this focus, of course, but it is not to be
found in I, Ch. 5--*especially* given Michael's amendment. This basis, as I
have argued, is Marx's historical-materialist theory of profit and interest,
with particular emphasis on capitalist production as a historically
contingent *strategic* response to the problems posed in exploiting workers
once the latter become "free in the double sense."

>And then a question 'with attitude':

>After the discard suggested, why can we not account for surplus value
>appropriation in terms of the systemic mechanisms ensuring that labour-power
>will not be systematically traded unless the capitalist expects the value
of the
>average product of labour (valued at its price) to sufficiently exceed the wage

That's not the issue. The issue is why systematic appropriation of surplus
value requires that 1) capitalists control production in at least the sense
of formal sub-
sumption of labor under capital and 2) gain access to the use value of labor
power only by hiring the latter *as such* (putting aside whether it is a
commodity) rather than, e.g.,

i) loaning money to workers, individually or in teams (an update of usury
capital extended to small producers);
ii) hiring workers to provide specific labor services (rather than merely
hiring the capacity to work, i.e. labor power), an update of
proto-industrial merchant's capital.

There are good reasons for this, of course, and they're in Marx, but they
have nothing directly to do with Marx's value-theoretic analysis of Vol. I
Parts 1 & 2.

In solidarity, Gil