[OPE-L:2427] Chapter 5 and Marx's method

Fred Moseley (fmoseley@laneta.apc.org)
Thu, 30 May 1996 07:19:04 -0700

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I am afraid that I have not had the time to respond to Gil's latest posts in
our discussion of Chapter 5, and probably will not have the time for a while
(I will be out of town for 10 days starting tomorrow). Perhaps it is just
as well. I think we have pushed the arguments forward on both sides, but
have reached the point of repeating ourselves a high proportion of the time.
So perhaps is it a good time to drop the discussion for now, unless other
participants join the discussion.

For the record, I will summarize my main conclusions once again:

1. Marx's theory in 'Capital' is about capitalist production from the very
beginning. Marx's logical method is: (1) to take the totality of capitalist
production as the subject of his theory throughout the three volumes of
'Capital', (2) to systematically explain the necessary interconnections of
the important features of this totality, and (3) to demonstrate that this
totality reproduces his own premises. (please see my response to Alan in
(2339) for an elaboration of thse points). I have presented much textual
evidence to support this fundamental point that the subject of Chapter 1 is
the commodity produced by capitalist production.

Contrary to Gil, Marx did not first take as his subject in the beginning of
'Capital' the "capitalist mode of production" which, according to Gil,
includes various forms of non-capitalist production, such as "leasee workers
coops," "proto-industrial merchant capital," etc. Gil argument hinges
crucially on one phrase from a sentence in Volume 3: "that the capitalist
mode of production could proceed on its own basis without capitalist
production." I have argued that this phrase is in the context of a
discussion of interest as a part of surplus-value and simply means that
interest in capitalism could not exist without capitalist production. The
first part of the same sentence from which this phrase comes reads: "the
nonsense that capital could yield interest without functioning as productive
capital. I urge anyone interested in this issue to read this passage, my
comments on it in (2068) and Gil's response in (2229).

If Marx's subject is capitalist production from the beginning, then it
cannot be true that Marx tried to prove the "necessity" of capitalist
production, in Gil's sense of the only possible source of surplus-value,
distinct from other non-capitalist forms of production (see point #2)

2. Marx successfully derived the "necessity" of labor-power within
capitalist production, in the Hegelian sense that labor-power is a necessary
condition for the existence of surplus-value in capitalism (labor-power here
means the same thing as wage-labor; please see my p.s. below). This is not
a "tautology", but follows from the labor theory of value (and only from the
labor theory of value). I think that my interpretation of "necessity" is
similar to that expressed by Mile W. in (2777) as "the systematic necessity
for the reproduction of bourgeios society" and to that presented by Mike and
Geert in their book (I am of course speaking for myself, not for them).

Gil's critique that Marx failed to prove the "necessity" of labor-power
depends not only on his definition of the "capitalist mode of production"
(point #1), but also on his different definition of "necessity," as the only
possible source of surplus-value distinct from non-capitalist forms of

3. Since Marx was not trying to prove the necessity of labor-power as the
only possible source of surplus-value, this nonexistent attempted proof does
not depend on the assumption that individual prices are equal to their values.

Marx's theory of the aggregate amount of surplus-value in Volume 1 also does
not depend in any way on Marx's provisional assumption (as stated at the end
of Chapter 5) that individual prices are equal to their values. In Volume
1, Marx assumed that individual prices are equal to their values because
there is no basis for any other assumption consistent with the labor theory
of value at this abstract stage of analysis. Individual commodities are
analyzed in the aggregate analysis of Volume 1 only as representatives of
the total commodity product of capitalist production.

The main point of Chapter 5 is that surplus-value cannot be explained on the
basis of exchange alone. Marx argued that this conclusion is true whether
there is the exchange of equivalents or the exchange of equivalents. The
aggregate amount of surplus-value is not affected by whether or not
individual commodities are exchanged at their values. Another indication of
that the main question in Chapter 5 (as in all of Volume 1) is to explain
the aggregate amount of surplus-value is his discussion of merchant profit
and interest: Marx argued that before these individual parts of
surplus-value can be analyzed, the total amount of surplus-value must be

It is tempting to get into these issues again, but I will resist, at least
for now. I am sure that we will return to them in our future discussions.

In solidarity,

P.S. One brief comment on Duncan's and Mike W's comments on Gil's argument
that Marx's concept of labor-power is not necessarily a commodity. I agree
completely that the concept of labor-power for Marx is a commodity, in the
sense that it is bought and sold. This definition of labor-power follows
from my general interpretation that ALL the key concepts in Marx's theory
refer specifically and solely to capitalist production.