[OPE-L:2229] Re: Chapter 5 and Marx's method

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Wed, 15 May 1996 10:35:20 -0700

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Following is my promised but long overdue detailed response to Fred's
post #2068. The sense of these arguments is summarized in an earlier

> 1. GIL: In the texts that Fred presented to support his interpretation that
> the subject of 'Capital' is "capitalist production" from the beginning in
> Chapter 1, Fred equated "capitalist production" and "capitalist mode of
> production". But Marx clearly distinguished between these two in a passage
> in Volume 3 of 'Capital'.
> "Capitalist mode of production" is broader than "capitalist production" and
> also includes other forms of production, such as workers cooperatives.
> FRED: In my previous post (#1788), I presented 7 passages which stated
> explicitly that the commodity analyzed in Chapter 1 of Volume 1 is
> "capitalist production".

I trust Fred doesn't mean this, since capitalist production is not a

> I also presented two passages in which Marx stated
> that the subject of 'Capital' is the "capitalist mode of production", one
> from the Preface of the First Edition and the other from the first sentence
> of Chapter 1.

Indeed Fred did. However, as explained in my earlier post, Marx's
interchangeable use only indicates that Marx found them to be closely
linked *empirically*, a point my own account affirms. This does not
imply definitional equivalence of capitalist production (KP) and the
capitalist mode of production. Furthermore, in my earlier post I
gave detailed responses to each of these passages, showing that they
did not conflict with, and in some cases supported, my interpretation
rather than Fred's. More on this below.

> Gil's argument regarding the first set of passages is that although they
> explicitly state that the commodity in Chapter 1 is the product of
> capitalist production, they can also be interpreted to imply that the
> commodity in Chapter 1 may also be a product of non-capitalist forms of
> production included in the "capitalist mode of production." This
> interpretation is possible, according to Gil, because: (1) Marx explicitly
> stated in the other two passages I presented that the subject of 'Capital'
> and Chapter 1 is the "capitalist mode of production"

well, no, I said a bit more as well, as can be verified by
re-checking my post. Example, in response to one of Fred's
highlighted passages: "Note what Marx *does not say* in this passage
[quoted by Fred]: that surplus value can *only* arise from capitalist
production based on wage labor. Thus this does not in the least
challenge my point."

[I repeat that in the
> Preface, after saying that the subject of 'Capital' is the "capitalist mode
> of production", Marx added "and the relations of production ... that
> correspond to it." This mention of production relations seems to suggest
> that "capitalist mode of production" means "capitalist production" based on
> the specific capital / wage-labor production relation.

And I repeat my response, neglected here by Fred, when he made a
similar claim in the earlier post: "It does not [imply this]. That's
precisely the specification [Marx] would have had to add if he mean
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."

> Thus The only
> completely ambiguous use of the "capitalist mode of production" is the first
> sentence of Chapter 1] and (2) Marx defined "capitalist mode of production"
> as including non-capitalist forms of production. Therefore, the key issue
> here is the definition of the "capitalist mode of production" and
> specifically whether the "capitalist mode or production" includes
> non-capitalist forms of production, such as workers coops and the
> putting-out system.
> It should be pointed out that what Gil means by "workers coops in the
> capitalist mode of production" (clarified for me by Gil in a direct post)
> does NOT include workers' coops that own their own means of production.
> This type of workers coop does not belong to the "capitalist mode of
> production" because the workers in these coops are not "free in the double
> sense" of not owning their means of production. "Workers coops in the
> capitalist mode of production" include only those coops that rent or borrow
> their means of production. Gil recognizes that these types of workers coops
> may be empirically insignificant, but emphasizes that his argument is about
> formal logic and taxonomy, and not about practicality and viability.

Let me add a point to that: I made this restriction on the
interpretation of "worker coops" *only* to stay within Marx's
*theoretical* strictures for the "capitalist mode of production",
i.e. that workers are free in the double sense. However, as an
*empirical* matter, modern capitalism does in fact include worker
cooperatives which own their own means of production, and these as an
empirical matter do often yield interest to capitalists. So if we're
concerned with matters of "practicality and viability", the
capitalist mode of production does not in fact require that *all*
workers be "free in the double sense."

> The main textual evidence offered by Gil to support his interpretation that
> the "capitalist mode of production" includes non-capitalist forms of
> production is from Volume 3, p. 501. This passage is from Chapter 23
> entitled "Interest and Profit of Enterprise". In this chapter, interest is
> analyzed as one component of the total amount of surplus-value produced in
> capitalist production as a whole. As in all of Volume 3, the total amount
> of surplus-value is taken as given, as already determined by the Volume 1
> aggregate analysis of capital in general. The subject here is clearly the
> surplus-value produced in capitalist production and how this surplus-value
> is divided between industrial capitalists and financial capitalists.
> "Interest-bearing capital" is analyzed as a secondary form, derived from the
> primary form of "industrial capital", i.e. capital invested in capitalist
> production. The analysis does not concern in any way "leasee" workers coops
> or the putting-out system. These forms of non-capitalist production are
> never mentioned once in this chapter.

The last two sentences are utterly beside the point. Marx's analysis
*does* consider the possibility of a return to usury capital, which
is yet another form (beside putting-out or worker coops) which is
quite clearly not capitalist production. But even this misses the
point, which is: if indeed Marx *defined* capitalist production as a
synonym for "the capitalist mode of production", then he could not
possibly have uttered the phrase "that the capitalist mode of
production could proceed on its course without capitalist
production", unless Fred is suggesting that Marx made a habit of
talking in circles.

> One of the main points of Chapter 23 is that, once the total surplus-value
> is divided into interest and profit of enterprise, then interest APPEARS (to
> capitalists and to bourgeois economists) as a separate source of income,
> independent of the capitalist production that produced it.

Yes, that point is also. This observation does not affect my

> interest appears as a surplus-value that capital yields in and of itself
> and which it would therefore yield even without productive application.
> (501)
> Marx commented that, from the point of view of individual capitalists, this
> appearance is correct: an individual capitalist can indeed lend his capital
> and receive an interest, rather than invest in production. However, Marx
> argued further, from the point of view of the total social capital, this
> appearance of interest as an independent source of income is absurd. For
> the total social capital, without capitalist production, there could be no
> surplus-value and, without surplus-value, there could be no interest.

But something more *must* be going on here, because Marx just got
finished, in Ch. 20, affirming that surplus value ****could***exist
"without capitalist production", a conclusion reaffirmed subsequently
in Ch. 36, re usury capital extended to small producers, and
corroborated by unambiguous passages in the Resultate, the
Grundrisse, and the Economic manuscript of 1861-63.

Specifically, Fred's conclusion makes sense only if understood in a
historically contingent *strategic* sense: appropriation of surplus
value, up to a certain point, requires capitalist production, *given*
the historical conditions associated with the capitalist mode of
production. (This, of course, has been the point of the "Ch. 5
critique" all along.)

> Following this sentence are the two sentences quoted by Gil:
> It is utter nonsense to suggest that all capital could be transformed into
> money capital without the presence of people to buy and valorize the
> means of production.... Concealed in this idea, moreover, is the still
> IS SIMPLY ONE PART; that the capitalist mode of production could
> proceed on its course without capitalist production. (the part of this
> passage in upper-case was left out of Gil's excerpt in #2049).

That's because, as explained above, doing so does not affect my
argument in the slightest. Marx could not meaningfully distinguish
"capitalist mode of production" and "capitalist production", in the
passage Fred doesn't capitalize, if he defined them as equivalent,
according to Fred's suggestion.

> It seems to me that both the general context of this passage within Marx's
> overall logical method and the part of this passage emphasized in upper-case
> clearly indicate that the meaning of this passage is that it is nonsense to
> think that interest could be received as income without surplus-value being
> produced within capitalist production. There is absolutely no evidence to
> support Gil's interpretation that the last part of this passage means that
> the "capitalist mode of production" includes "leasee" workers coops and the
> putting-out system, in addition to capitalist production.

Again, this is utterly beside the point.

> This conclusion is further supported by a review of the passages listed in
> the indexes of the three volumes of Capital under "capitalist modes of
> production" - especially Volume 3 where more references are listed. These
> two terms are used interchangeably throughout and the "capitalist mode of
> production" is discussed repeatedly with aspects that relate specifically
> and solely to "capitalist production": the equalization of profit rates,
> the falling rate of profit, merchant capital, interest-bearing capital,
> supervisory labor, capitalist agriculture, etc. The interchangeable use of
> the two terms while discussing these topics suggests that "capitalist mode
> of production" means "capitalist production."

It does not, for reasons explained here and in my previous post.
Interchangeable use implies only that KP and KMP typically go
together as an empirical matter. No one denies that. However, in
passages where it matters, i.e. Marx is concerned with definition or
distinguishing terms, (as on p. 501 of V. III), Marx *does not* treat
them as synonymous.

> Therefore, it seems to me that the evidence is overwhelming that, when Marx
> stated in the first sentence of Chapter 1 that the subject of his theory is
> the commodity in the "capitalist mode of production," he meant the same
> thing he said in the numerous other passages I have cited - that his
> subject is the commodity as the product of "capitalist production".

I must beg to differ, for reasons given above and in my previous
post. In particular I refer the interested reader to my earlier-post
responses to the passages put forward by Fred, since he does not
respond to these here. I also endorse Alan's addendum to the
discussion on this point

> 2. GIL: Even granting Fred's argument that 'Capital' is about "capitalist
> production" from the beginning, the necessity of wage-labor cannot be
> demonstrated on this basis. The necessity of one form of production cannot
> be established by ruling out alternative forms of production by fiat. If
> non-capitalist forms of production are ruled out by fiat, then the necessity
> of wage-labor is simply a tautology, not a derivation or conclusion.
> FRED: I am beginning to understand more clearly that the issue between Gil
> and I here has to do with exactly what Marx meant by "necessity". Gil
> interprets "necessity" to mean the necessity of capitalist production, as
> distinct from other forms of production. An argument for the "necessity" of
> wage-labor in this sense should rule out by argument other possible forms of
> production (as other sources of surplus-value).
> On the other hand, I interpret "necessity" to mean a NECESSARY FEATURE OF
> CAPITALIST PRODUCTION, as distinct from an "accidental or contingent"
> feature of capitalist production. Marx's question was not: are there other
> possible sources of surplus-value besides wage-labor (that is Gil's and
> Roemer's question).

According to Fred's reading of Vol. III Ch. 23, given above, it is
*also* Marx's question. And appropriately so: what else justifies
Marx's exclusive Volume I focus on capitalist production as the basis for
capital exploitation? It is clearly not enough to say that Marx
"stipulates" his narrow focus on this central issue; that begs the
fundamental question at hand.

> Marx's question was rather: is wage-labor a necessary
> or contingent feature of capitalist production. An argument for necessity
> in this sense should demonstrate that wage-labor is necessarily related to
> other features of capitalist production, i.e. that other features of
> capitalist production, such as surplus-value, cannot exist without
> wage-labor.

For reasons given above, I don't think this narrower question was
Marx's sole focus. However, suppose I accept Fred's position here
for the sake of discussion. My argument still stands in its
entirety: Marx's Ch. 5 analysis is insufficient to establish the
necessity of wage labor for capitalist production, except as a
tautology--i.e., unless wage labor is *defined* as a component of
capitalist production.

This is easily shown. Suppose in fact that Marx did not proceed
tautologically, i.e. did not simply define wage labor as an aspect of
capitalist production. Then no valid argument in Ch. 5 establishes
the necessity of wage labor for capitalist production. For example,
instead of merely hiring the *capacity* to labor for a fixed wage,
capitalists could (and do) contract for specific *labor services*,
much like proto-industrial merchant capitalists did (with the
important exception that modern providers of labor services do not
own significant means of production, unless personal computers

The grounds for explaining the necessary connection of wage labor to
capitalist production are historical-strategic, not value-theoretic.
Thus my criticism still stands.

Alternatively, if Fred means by "wage labor" simply that capitalists
must gain access to labor power (by whatever means) in order to
appropriate surplus value, well of course that's true. It follows
necessarily from Marx's definition of surplus value as valorization
rather than merely redistribution of value. Again, this is simply a
tautology, and has nothing to do with Marx's Ch. 5 analysis.

>The aim of Marx's theory in general, heavily influenced by
> Hegel, was to demonstrate the "necessary, intrinsic connections" between
> the various important phenomena of capitalist production. Therefore, the
> subject of Marx's theory, from the beginning, was the totality of capitalist
> production, and the theory attempted to demonstrate the necessary
> interconnections between the important aspects of this totality. This
> argument is not a "tautology", but the derivation of a different kind of
> necessity.

For reasons given above, I think that this particular step in Marx's
argument must be either a tautology or invalid.

> This conclusion - that wage-labor is a necessary feature of capitalist
> production, because its existence is necessary for the existence of
> surplus-value in capitalist production - seems obvious to us (even a
> "tautology").

If "wage labor" means "purchase of *labor power*, specifically,
as a commodity", then Marx's Ch. 5 analysis manifestly *does not*
establish that "wage-labor is a necessary feature of capitalist
production." If, as suggested by Fred's latter clause, "wage labor"
simply means "capitalists must have labor power to extract surplus
labor from", well, that follows from Marx's definition of surplus
value, not from Marx's Ch. 5 analysis.

> However, no other economic theory has demonstrated the
> necessity of wage-labor in this sense of being necessarily related to other
> important features of capitalist production.

Yes, of course. But this is not at all an issue in this
discussion--obviously both Fred and I agree on the relevance of
Marxian theory. Our disagreement concerns the interpretation of
Marx's argument in Ch. 5, which manifestly **does not** demonstrate
"the necessity of wage-labor in this sense of being necessarily
related to other important features of capitalist production" unless
"demonstration" means "illustration of a definitional tautology."

> In neoclassical theory, the "labor market" is introduced after the theory of
> "product markets", without an explanation of the necessity of wage-labor.
> Wage-labor remains simply a "contingent" feature of capitalist production.

This is not an issue here.

> The necessity of wage-labor also does not follow from the "scarcity theory
> of surplus-value," presented by Roemer and favored by Gil,

This is an inappropriate oversimplification of my
position. First: "the necessity of wage-labor...does not follow"
from the "scarcity theory of surplus value" for *exactly* the reason
that it also doesn't follow from Marx's value-theoretic analysis in
Ch. 5--because neither approach incorporates the historically
contingent strategic argument necessary to establish this connection,
other than as a tautology. This has been the sole basis of my
defense of Roemer.

Second, as I've made clear from my first "Ch. 5" post on, I grant that
capitalist production based on wage labor might be an essential
feature of surplus value appropriation under the historical
conditions associated with the capitalist mode of production. But,
as I argued in my Ec & Phil article, this shows at most that these
relations are necessary to the *maximal realization* of surplus
value; they do not establish, nor does Marx anywhere quite prove,
that capitalist production based on wage labor is necessary for the
*existence* of surplus value. Thus Roemer's "scarcity" theory of
capitalist exploitation must be seriously qualified, but Marxist
critics have not succeeded in proving it *wrong*--certainly not on
the basis of arguments advanced by Marx in I, Ch. 5.

Finally, if Marx does in fact prove this connection, it is necessarily on the
basis of historical-strategic rather than value-theoretic grounds,
much less *aggregative* value-theoretic grounds.

> which, as we have
> seen, is concerned with a different question: the necessity of wage-labor as
> opposed to other possible forms of social labor which are also based on the
> separation of workers from the means of production.

See above.

> 3. GIL: Even granting Fred's arguments on these first two points, it is
> still true that Marx stated "repeatedly, emphatically, and unambiguously"
> that surplus-value must be explained on the basis of price-value equivalence
> for individual commodities. Therefore, Marx's theory of surplus-value in
> Volume 1 is not a macro, aggregate theory.
> FRED: This is the original and enduring issue between Gil and me. Gil's
> argument is based on "what Marx actually said" in: (1) the last paragraph in
> Chapter 5, (2) the footnote to this paragraph (3) the first paragraph of
> Chapter 6, and (4) a similar passage in "Wages, Prices, and Profit".
> The issue here depends primarily on the meaning of the footnote, since (3)
> simply repeats (1) and (4) presents a simplified version of the arguments in
> Chapter 5 and 6 without the clarifying footnote.

But the point is it *does* proceed on the basis of Marx's conclusion
to Ch. 5, which quite clearly refers to the "result" that "the
transformation of money into capital *has to be developed*...in such
a way that the starting-point is the exchange of equivalents."

I don't have a copy of
> WPP with me, but the excerpt presented by Gil seems to support the aggregate
> interpretation of Marx's theory of surplus-value. The key word is
> "AVERAGE". Marx did not say that each and every commodity must exchange at
> their value, but only "on average", i.e. only for the total commodity
> product. The "average commodity" represents the total commodity product
> (more on this below).

Here, Fred takes "average" to mean "average across commodities". May
I suggest an alternative interpretation? I suggest that Marx means
rather "average of commodity prices *across time*, i.e., recognizing
that actual market prices fluctuate. This interpretation supports my
reading rather than Fred's, and there are at least two reasons, I
suggest, to favor it:

1) This interpretation rather than Fred's corresponds with Marx's
usage of "average" in the final footnote of Ch. 5, and in a parallel
passage in the Grundrisse (pp 136-7, Penguin)

2) Fred's reading translates as "one must explain surplus value on
the basis that total prices =total values (so that *average* price
must equal *average* value). But this condition is **necessarily
incapable** of justifying Marx's exclusive focus on capitalist
production based on wage labor, or if Fred prefers the necessity of
wage labor to capitalist production. The reason is simple: this
aggregate condition does not of itself rule out any other form of
surplus value appropriation, including usury capital,
proto-industrial merchant's capital, or in deference to Fred,
capitalist production based on the purchase of labor services rather
than labor power.

> Gil and I have completely different interpretations of the footnote. Gil
> argues that the footnote reinforces the conclusion that surplus-value must
> be explained on the basis of the assumption of individual price-value
> equivalence. I argue (e.g. #1626) that the footnote qualifies this
> assumption in a way consistent with the aggregate interpretation of Marx's
> theory of surplus-value. I will not repeat the arguments here.

I will repeat my point, since Fred has not responded to it, that
Fred's own citation includes a passage which is inconsistent with an
aggregate interpretation, i.e. that "prices are
regulated...ultimately by the value of commodities".

Also, again I refer to Marx's explicit disaggregate-level comments
that begin the footnote.

> I wish
> others would comment on this footnote. But it still seems to be that Gil's
> textual evidence altogether is meager and ambiguous and that Gil greatly
> overstates his case when he says that Marx stated "repeatedly, emphatically,
> and unambiguously" that surplus-value must be explained on the basis of
> individual price-value equivalence.

Well, of course, that's a judgment call, but in light of the above I
stand by my earlier statement. At the very least, Marx unambiguously
states that surplus value must be explained on the basis of "the
exchange of equivalents", and nowhere retracts this stipulation.

> As against these few passages, we have all the textual evidence and
> methodological arguments (presented by Rosdlosky, Mattick, Foley, and in my
> previous work) that Marx's theory of surplus-value in Volume 1 is an
> aggregate theory about the total amount of surplus-value in the capitalist
> economy as a whole.

But these alternative arguments do not, for the most part, clash with
my critique, for reasons already given. Based on what Marx says at
the end of Ch. 5, the story is not in aggregate terms. But if it
were, it could not possibly support Marx's subsequent focus on
capitalist production based on wage labor, without begging central

> If Marx's theory of surplus-value is indeed an
> aggregate theory, as all this evidence suggests, then it is not true that
> this theory depends on the price-value equivalence of individual
> commodities. Furthermore, the few passages cited by Gil can be understood
> in a way consistent with the aggregate interpretation of Marx's theory of
> surplus-value, as stating a provisional assumption which is not essential to
> this aggregate theory. Therefore, I think that the evidence for the
> aggregate interpretation of Marx's theory of surplus-value far outweighs
> these few sentences to which Gil refers, which can be understood in a way
> consistent with the aggregate interpretation.

Again, I must beg to differ. In most cases, as I've argued without
response, the indicated "evidence" simply doesn't clash with my

> A key point (which I have emphasized before, eg. #1223) in understanding
> these few passages from the perspective of the aggregate interpretation of
> Marx's theory is that, in Volume 1, individual commodities are not analyzed
> as such, but rather as "representatives" or as "aliquot parts" of the total
> commodity product. Therefore, the assumption that prices are equal to their
> values, applies strictly speaking only to the total commodity product.

For reasons detailed above, if this is indeed a "key point" it works
against Marx's argument, rather than in favor of it.

> In Marx's key example of his theory of surplus-value in Chapter 7 of Volume
> 1 (and in 'Wages, Prices, and Profit'), the theory is illustrated in terms
> of one worker in the cotton cloth industry. The purpose of Marx's theory is
> not to explain the price of cotton cloth and the surplus-value contained in
> the cotton cloth, per se and as distinct from all other commodities (and
> certainly not the price of the cotton cloth produced by one worker).

This is not relevant. By Ch. 7 Marx has already exclusively focused
on capitalist production based on wage labor. The issue is how Marx
justifies this focus, which is done in Ch. 5.

> "Marx's conception of the individual capital with which he begins his theory
> of profit at the beginning of Volume 3 is no longer the same as it was
> during his exposition of the theory of surplus-value in Volume 1. There the
> individual capital was only considered insofar as it was stripped of all
> particularity. It stood as the immediate representative of all capitals, as
> the abstract generality of capital as such. Consequently, the individual
> capital could be taken as a simple microcosm of the totality of social
> capital, its direct and immediate individual embodiment. But now, at the
> beginning of Volume 3, the individual capital can no longer be considered as
> the immediate representative of all other capitals, nor of the totality of
> social capital... The individual capital now stands as a particular
> individual capital; an individual capital as amongst many other such
> capitals." (p. 452)
> Therefore, if this aspect of Marx's logical method is correctly understood,
> then the statement at the end of Chapter 5 does not mean that price-value
> equivalence of actual individual commodities is necessary to Marx's
> aggregate theory of surplus-value.

This conclusion leaves the central dilemma untouched:

1) Marx's *only* justification for his exclusive Volume I focus on
capitalist production based on wage labor as the basis of capitalist
exploitation is his explicitly stated conclusion about price-value
equivalence. This conclusion is invalid.

2) Absent this conclusion, no matter what how one feels about Marx's
"logical method", this focus cannot be justified. Certainly, for
reasons I've explained in detail without response, the *aggregative*
approach to values and prices cannot establish a basis for this

3) If one reads Marx as simply *assuming* this focus without
justification (which I don't), then one reads Marx as begging the
central questions at issue. As I put it before: Both price-value
disparities and capitalist production based on wage labor are
ubiquitous under the KMP. Yet Marx discards the former as
"accidental" and evidently regards the latter as central to the logic
of capitalist exploitation. On what valid basis?

In solidarity, Gil