[OPE-L:2556] Re: a priorism - definition of capitalism

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Fri, 21 Jun 1996 09:39:32 -0700 (PDT)

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A response to Paul C's ope-l 2553:

Paul writes: "I was merely echoing a long established marxist tradition ...
by common consent economists, both Marxian and non-marxian have labelled
[this sort of economic system] capitalist ... when I use the word capitalism,
I am using it in the old conventional sense ..."

This is precisely the problem. Paul takes for granted the truth of the
categories he employs. This is why I referred to his approach as either
a priorism (if he thinks he is making *substantive* claims on the basis
of his categories), or empty tautology (if he merely intends to say that
capitalism is private because that's how he defines it).

Paul's apparent justification for this procedure is that "everyone knows what
is really being referred to here ... one has no difficulty in telling what
is really being refer[r]ed to ..."

I don't agree. I know what people *mean* to refer to, but do they actually
refer to what they mean to refer to? What is at issue is the internal
coherence of the categories. If one means something but never quites
says it, or says something that one never quite means, then one's category
is inadequate. I don't agree with Paul, therefore, that there's "no real
point in arguing over the mere use of words." With respect to the issue
at hand, the point is to understand what capital *is*, and then to understand
a given society as capitalist or not according to its conformance to the
category of capital and its specifications. What capital *is*, is the
advance of value for the sake of getting more value in return. I submit
that, when this category is fully (enough) developed, it will be seen that
the "USSR" conformed to it.

I have no quarrel with any Marxist who *described* some "already existing
capitalism as having private appropriat[ion] and social production." My
problem is with Paul, who asserts that not some particular capitalism, but
capitalism as such, "is characterised by ... private appropriation." This
is either a priorism or empty tautology.

Paul is right that Marx analyzed and described capitalism in its private
property form. But this was not his *concept* of capitalism, and his
analysis brings other forms under the category of capital. I've already
quoted the passage in which he says the limit to concentration and central-
ization in a given society is when all the capital is in the hands of one
capitalist or one capitalist company. In Vol. II, he writes that we should
not adopt the view, which Proudhon copies from the bourgeois economists,
of thinking that capitalist society loses its peculiar historical character
when considered en bloc, as a totality. This is not the case at all. What
we have to deal with is the collective capitalist. (I'm quoting from
memory--my paper at the latest EEA gives the precise quote and page #.)

It is also well know that Marx demarcated societies firstly according to
their modes of PRODUCTION, the key to which in his view was the form in which
surplus-labor is pumped out of the immediate producers. No notion of owner-
ship or atomization here. Towards the end of Vol. III, in the chapter on
"Relations of Production and Relations of Distribution," Marx lays into
J.S. Mill (especially), who declared the laws of distribution to be of
human institution and hence mutable, unlike the laws of production. Marx
basically sums up the whole of _Capital_ at this point to show that capitalist
relations of production are historically specific, and that it distinguishes
itself from other societies according to its relations of production, not
distribution per se.

So I contend that it was *Marx* who undertook the "modification in what had
until then been taken as the characteristic features of capitalism."

The foregoing should also make clear that I strongly deny that the conception
of Stalinist systems as state-capitalist is purely an "ideological"
designation. What is involved is the *adequacy* of the differing concepts
of capitalism.

In the "USSR," the allocation of labor did not occur "according to a
politically determined state plan." It was *supposed* to, but both resist-
ance from the working class and the subjection of that economy to capitalist
crisis and the law of value made the reality rather different.

Paul denies the validity of noncausal explanations, calls others "story
telling." Let me ask Paul what he thinks about the principles of
natural selection; are they invalid as explanation?

What is "Cable and Wireless PLC"? The name of a firm? If so, how is
this SHOWING me a firm? Its "firm-ness" is just a category that exists
in the minds of some Marxists and non-Marxists.

If there were no drive to accumulate, then we shouldn't see firms getting
bigger and capital more centralized. If there were a drive to dis-accumulate,
then we should see firms getting smaller and capital less centralized.
These don't happen.

Paul really hasn't responded to my methodological/measurement questions
concerning the claim that the "overwhelmingly greater part of ... surplus-
value" has been consumed unproductively. Why should we accept this claim if
we're not even told what precisely it means?

Paul suggests that if the share of surplus-value accumulated is small, then
Marx's concept of capitalism as production for production's sake must
fall--even if the lack of accumulation is due to the self-contradictory
or self-limiting character of accumulation that tends to negate the
drive to accumulate. At least I think this is what Paul means. If so,
it is rather like saying the law of gravity must fall (no pun intended)
because the ceiling in my apartment hasn't collapsed.

Ok, there are "unsolved problems" concerning accumulation. My point is that
one very important one has been solved. Expanded reproduction at constant
values (or prices) necessitates that

Iv + Is > IIc

also known as production for production's sake.

Andrew Kliman