[OPE-L:2342] Re: Chapter 5 and Marx's method

Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Thu, 23 May 1996 11:53:06 -0700

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In response to the following,

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

Duncan writes:

>No, but don't the examples you give suggest that labor power only exists
>in an embryonic or potential form in these situations?

I would say not, unless the conclusion of the argument I'm contesting is
assumed. I understand labor power as the capacity to labor, rather than as a
commodity, on the ground that commodification of labor power is simply a
historically contingent implication of the labor-labor power distinction.
Thus, in the cases I've presented, this capacity is necessarily actual
rather than "embryonic" or "potential"-- otherwise it couldn't be expressed
in surplus labor. Furthermore the substantive *distinction* between labor
and labor power is operative in these cases; otherwise, for example, the
power of usury would not have been dependent on and coterminous with a
propertied small producing class.

To put it another way: the significance of the labor-labor distinction,
expressed in each of the historical surplus value-bearing circuits of
capital, does not depend on the commodity status of labor power. To the
contrary, its commodity status derives from the historically contingent
strategic implications of this distinction.


>> 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
>> 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