[OPE-L:2552] Re: responding to gil

Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Thu, 20 Jun 1996 12:51:45 -0700 (PDT)

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I find Michael's comments extremely helpful in part because they remind me
that half of our mutual task on this net, coming as we do from very
different approaches to Marx and Marxian issues, is *translation*: trying
to put the other person's ideas into our own framework in a way that does
justice to the original. It is clear to me from Michael's comments that he
has read the paper with an open eye and mind, and yet apparently I've used
terms which, while innocuously descriptive in my framework, send up a red
flag in his. Let's see:

>I appreciate that Gil was generally sympathetic to my comments on
>his paper. Here is the key to my difference with Gil. If, as I
>understand him, Gil wants us to go back to the notion of
>exploitation, outside of the labor theory of value, then we are
>thrown back onto various forms of exploitation: merchant capital,
>usury, etc.

I don't see the suggested dichotomy. Indeed, my main point on this score is
that for Marx there *is* no dichotomy: usury and merchant's capital
extended to small producers represented "capitalist exploitation" in the
same sense that industrial capital does (although achieved by different
means). Thus, affirming the exploitative status of these earlier forms
takes us "outside of the labor theory of value" no more or less than
affirming that profit under the capitalist mode of production is based on
exploitation. Recall here Marx's repeated insistence that these earlier
circuits, when extended to direct producers for productive purposes,
constituted "capitalist exploitation without the capitalist mode of production."

Consequently, I don't argue that we "go back" to anything. For Marx, usury
and merchant capital, qualified as above, constitute the *same* form of
exploitation as that associated with capitalist production and wage labor.

>My reference to justice does not come from anything specific that
>Gil wrote. Rather, we have no standards of fairness or justice
>concerning merchant capital.

But when merchant capital is extended to small producers, we have the same
standard Marx applies to industrial capital (i.e., that based on capitalist
production and wage labor): capitalist exploitation. Thus there is no need
to invoke some other standard of fairness or justice, at least not from a
Marxian standpoint.

> For example, a merchant may make a
>big profit today. Yes, he responds, but that is a risk premium.
>Next year I might make nothing. Averaged over a decade, I make
>no more than a working man. Isn't that fair?

An industrial capitalist could say the same thing, with no more or less
validity than
the merchant capitalist.

>More important, these other forms of merchant capital are not
>necessarily crucial. Most "usury" that he describes in modern
>capitalism is the transfer of surplus from capitalists to money
>lenders, a surplus arising out of labor.
>In Marx's day, slavery was a far more important source of surplus
>than usury or merchant capital.

I agree with these points but don't see how they affect the argument of the
paper. The key issue is that prior to the capitalist mode of production,
usury and merchant's capital were able, in Marx's assessment, to support the
appropriation of surplus value, i.e. self-valorizing value, and thus
constituted forms of capitalist exploitation. However, once the conditions
underlying the capitalist mode of production are in place, capitalist
exploitation can no longer be sustained on the sole basis of usury or
merchant's capital, because under such conditions "exploitation of
productive labor takes effort", and thus usury and merchant's capital become
subsidiary forms which "live and die, stand and fall together" with
industrial capital.

Why? If these forms were adequate to support capitalist exploitation prior
to capitalist mode of production, why are they necessarily inadequate once
the latter mode is in place? The answer to this question, which necessarily
requires more than simply value-theoretic considerations, is the central
concern of the paper.