[OPE-L:2541] Re: thoughts on Gil and Chapter 5

Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Wed, 19 Jun 1996 08:59:51 -0700 (PDT)

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Thank you, Michael, for your comments on my paper. This is just the sort of
thoughtful feedback I had hoped to get before revising the paper for
submission. I have some responses to your comments, but mostly in the form
of clarifying what I had intended to say. In any event I'll use your
remarks as guidelines for emending the argument presented in the paper.

Michael writes:

>Gil sent me a copy of his Vancouver paper. Here are my thoughts.
>Marx used value theory to advance beyond the moralistic
>discussions of exploitation common to his day. Prior to Marx,
>radicals of all stripes saw exploitation within the context of a
>moral economy. Wages were too low or interest was too high.=20
>Even more thoroughgoing radicals who challenged the system of
>private property based their protest in terms of justice.
>Justice, however, is a very subjective concept, open to various
>interpretations. What is too high a price? Should all the land
>in North America revert back to the Native Americans? Should the
>descendants of slaves also be expropriated? Marx attempted to go
>beyond such questions with his concept of value.

I don't disagree with this assessment, and certainly don't challenge it
anywhere in the paper. To anticipate, the paper accepts Marx's definition
of exploitation and does not attempt to offer any alternative standard of
"justice." The sole concern of the paper is the nature of the connection
between capitalist exploitation and capitalist production, i.e. the
subsumption of labor under capital.

>To develop his value theory, Marx presupposed a capitalist
>system, including wage labor. Let us call this Marx's logical
>analysis of value. Now, Gil asks Marx to show how we can deduce
>wage labor from value theory. I do not think that Marx or anybody else
ever >believed that we could ever deduce everything from the nature of=

This is not quite what I had intended to do, though I see how this
interpretation might have been conveyed. First, my argument, in the paper
as on this network, is not so much with value theory itself but the use to
which Marx puts his value theory in Volume I, Part 2--i.e., to arrive at a
conclusion which is neither valid nor a necessary concomitant of value
theory. Now here, as I read Marx, it's not a question of what *I'm* asking
Marx to do, but of what Marx *says* he's done, which is to establish the
centrality of wage labor to the process of capitalist exploitation on the
(invalid) ground that surplus value must be explained on the basis of
price-value equivalence:

"The change [in the value of money] must therefore take place in the
commodity which is bought in the first act of circulation, M-C, but not in
its value, for it is equivalents which are being exchanged...The change can
therefore originate only in the actual use-value of the commodity, i.e. its
consumption. In order to extract value out of the consumption of a
commodity, our friend the money-owner must be lucky enough to find within
the sphere of circulation...a commodity whose use value possesses the
peculiar property of being a source of value...The possessor of money does
find such a special commodity on the market:....labour power." [I, 270,=

Second, though, Michael is certainly right to suggest that in some sense I'm
expecting Marx to justify the centrality of capitalist production based on
wage labor to his account of capitalist exploitation (as made clear in the
exchange between Fred and me). But this seems like a legitimate demand,
just because these elements *are* so central to his account, and because he
*does* try to justify their centrality. In the absence of such a
justification, capitalist production and wage labor might well be as
"incidental" to the process of capitalist exploitation as are price-value
disparities--a disturbing conclusion, I would think, in light of the past
century of argument in Marxian political economy.

>Here we get to the tricky part. Marx did use his logical value
>theory to analyze contradictions within capitalism. These
>contradictions, in turn, implied change. Remember that Marx
>wanted to develop the laws of motion of capital. Just as he
>projected forward toward the end of capitalism, Marx also shows,
>much as Adam Smith had done before him, how capitalism evolved
>out of the contradictions with earlier modes of production.
>This historical analysis gives rise to what became known as the
>historical transformation problem. According to this theory,
>simple values exist a barter system or petty commodity
>production. As concentrations of capital accumulate [somehow] in
>the hands of a few people, prices form that deviate from values.=20
>In a sense, we are deducing fully developed capitalism from these
>earlier modes of production.
>Thus, as Gil shows, surplus value can arise from merchant capital
>or usury. Perhaps the most example of non-capitalist production
>of surplus was the work of the slaves on the U.S. cotton
>plantations who produced the crucial raw material for British

And here, I would add, we also immediately encounter two puzzles:
merchant capital and usury gave rise to surplus value, as Michael confirms,
and yet these circuits 1) *relied* on price-value disparities for the
appropriation of surplus value; did not involve the purchase of wage labor;
and did not involve capitalist production, despite 2) Marx's insistence that
"the exploitation of productive effort takes [supervisory] effort", at least
under the capitalist mode of production. Why does it require such effort
under capitalism but not under the regime of merchant or usury capital?
These puzzles, which strike at the heart of Marx's account of capitalist
exploitation, cannot be resolved on the basis of his value theory.

>We must keep in mind that Marx's capitalist mode of production is
>an abstraction, not a precise description of reality. Wage
>laborers, slaves, usurers, and merchant capitalists all inhabited
>that world in which he lived. In moving from the abstract mode
>of production to the real world, we should expect some
>inconsistency. Gil tells us that we should pay attention to this
>I agree. Unfortunately, he bends the rod the too far, suggesting
>that we abandon logical value analysis and move back in the
>direction of an analysis that ultimately rests on subjective
>judgements about justice.

I certainly don't mean to say this, and I'm not sure what part of the paper
suggests it. [Michael, could you pinpoint this for me?] The paper does not
contest Marx's definition of exploitation or argue for the wholesale
abandonment of value theory.
It does say that the logic connecting capitalist exploitation to capitalist
production is essentially independent of value-theoretic categories,
although the logic might best be couched in such terms.

>My understanding of Marx's project is different. I read him as
>telling us that capitalist exploitation can exist in spite of the
>appearance of justice.

I read him the same way.

> I am drawn of many citations along these
> There Marx wrote:
> The organization of the capitalist process of
> production, once it is fully developed, breaks down all
> resistance. The constant generation of a relative
> surplus population keeps the law of the supply and
> demand of labour, and therefore wages, within narrow
> limits which correspond to capital's valorization
> requirements. The =94silent compulsion of economic
> relations=95 sets the seal on the =94domination of the
> capitalist over the worker=95. Direct extra-economic
> force is still of course used, but only in exceptional
> cases. In the ordinary run of things, the worker can
> be left to the "natural laws of production," i.e., it
> is possible to rely on his dependence on capital, which
> springs from the conditions of production themselves,
> and is guaranteed in perpetuity by them. It is
> otherwise during the historical genesis of capitalist
> production. The rising bourgeoisie needs the power of
> the state, and uses it to "regulate" wages, i.e., to
> force them into the limits suitable to make a profit,
> to lengthen the working day, and to keep the worker
> himself at his normal level of dependence. This is an
> essential aspect of so-called primitive accumulation.=20
> [Marx 1977, pp. 899-900; emphasis added]

I cite this passage myself in the paper; it's entirely consistent with,
indeed supports, my argument, though it took some criticism from Mike
Lebowitz to make me see exactly how it fit.

Clearly the current draft of the paper conveys an inaccurate view of the
argument. Michael, could you point me to the areas which suggest that I'm
contesting Marx's notion of exploitation? A private post when and if you
have time is fine. Thanks again.

In solidarity, Gil