[OPE-L:2332] Re: Chapter 5 and Marx's method

Duncan K Foley (dkf2@columbia.edu)
Wed, 22 May 1996 20:19:22 -0700

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On Wed, 22 May 1996, Gil Skillman wrote:
(cutting quite a bit out)

> I agree that the social significance of labor power is historically
> contingent--if "dialectical" is the appropriate term for that, it's fine
> with me. But I disagree that the distinction between labor power and labor
> "only becomes necessary when...labor power becomes a commodity...". I
> consider the commodification of labor power as symptomatic of a particular
> historical stage of class struggle relating to extraction of labor from
> labor power. But *all* surplus value-generating circuits of capital,
> including those which preceded the capitalist mode of production, faced the
> strategic problem of extracting labor from labor power, albeit with
> different methods and correspondingly different historical implications.
> Schematically:
> 1) Usury capitalists appropriated surplus value by charging interest for the
> means of production (in kind or in monetary form) they loaned to small
> producers. This appropriation was problematic to the extent that these
> producers could take the loan and yet not produce enough value to cover the
> equivalent of the wage *and* the interest payment. However, unlike the
> typical worker under the capitalist mode of production, these producers
> owned some of their own means of production, so that the usurer could
> require collateral. This is historically self-limiting, however, since as
> workers lose their property (partly through unintended defaults), usurers
> lose the ability to take collateral. Thus, as Marx says, "...as soon as the
> worker no longer possesses any conditions of production...the power of the
> usurer likewise comes to an end." [Marx-Engels Collected Works, V. 32, 534]

But this is exactly the kind of example where the use of the term
"labor-power" seems strained to me. In this situation there really isn't
any moment when "labor-power" as such becomes socially visible. What is
visible is the surplus mobilized out of the products of labor itself, but
where is the labor-power?