[OPE-L:2339] Re: Chapter 5 and Marx's method

Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Thu, 23 May 1996 08:52:03 -0700

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In response to my post with this passage,

> 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]

Duncan writes:

>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?

Must something be "socially visible" to be theoretically significant?

For example, are labor values "socially visible?"

I would reply that the *manifestations* of the labor-labor power distinction
are socially visible well before the commodification of labor power, and in
fact, as argued in the previous post, the latter is simply one of these
historically contingent
and socially visible manifestations.

Specifically, the substantive distinction between labor power and labor explains

1) why usury capitalists required that small producers post collateral for
their loans to finance means of production, and therefore

2) why, in Marx's words, "usury is a powerful means for establishing the
pre-conditions for industrial capital--a might agency for separating the
conditions of production from the producers" [see e.g. Paul Mantoux, The
Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century, for a discussion of this
redistributive effect of collateral requirements], and also

3) why, as Marx says, "the power of the usurer comes to an end" once workers
become propertyless.

By extension, if not for the ubiquitous operation of the labor-labor power
distinction, there would be no clear reason for the commodification of
labor power _per se_, and no basis for the subordination of
interest-bearing and merchant's capital to industrial capital once workers
become "free in the double sense."

Thus, even if we can't "see" labor power in these "antediluvian" circuits of
capital, we can certainly see the consequences of the distinction between
labor power and labor, and indeed could not explain the historical movements
of these circuits, or the genesis of the circuit of industrial capital,
without it.

In solidarity, Gil