[OPE-L:2562] Re: a priorism - definition of capitalism

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Mon, 24 Jun 1996 15:33:01 -0700 (PDT)

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Andrew writes vis a vis how one defines capitalism:
>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.

Paul replies:
The first question is whether the two terminalogies give rise to a homomorphic
categorisation. A catergorisation is a partitioning of a set. If we have two
predicates, x is capitalist, x is capitalist but not state capitalist and
these yield, in the hands of their proponents, the same partitioning on the
set of historically existing societies then the two systems of categorisation
are homomorphic and semantically indistinguishable. If on the other hand,
one had a system of categorisation that yielded a radically different set
partitioning - grouping the UK and the DDR into one category and Bulgaria
and France into a different one then the theories would be radically different.

Determino est negato, sets are defined only with respect to their complement.
Semantically, there is no meaning to the 'internal coherence of a category'.

>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.

I suspect that we are still just using words in a different sense, in
particular, I am suspect that we are using the phrase 'law of value'
rather differently. How would you define it?

>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?

No. The theory of evolution through natural selection is a causal

>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.

I said Cable and Wireless, since it was the first firm whose headquarters
buidling came to mind. To an extent this question is the old chestnut that
the logical positivists used to cite about the man who visits a university
and is shown the arts building, the science building, the library etc,
and then asks 'but where is the university'. I could show you the
headquarters of Cable and Wireless, I could show you telephone kiosks
it runs, but, probably not its submarine cables. I grant you that a
firm may be too big to take in at a glance, but it is nonetheless real, it
is not just an idea in my head.

>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.

What is originally at issue here is whether, under capitalism, production
occurs for the purpose of profit - as I assert, or for the sake of production
itself as Andrew says. I am not saying that capital accumulation never occurs.
When they reckon it profitable to do so, firms may accumulate capital. What
I am denying is any over riding tendancy to accumulate. I think that we should
be cautious about giving such a charitable interpretation of capitalism.
Left to its own devices it is a far more stangnant and retrogressive system
than we give it credit for.

In particular we should be very cautious about identifying changes in
capital ownership associated with mergers and takeovers as being surrogates
for actual accumulation. The motives for this are as likely to be the
attempt to gain a greater and more monopolistic share of the market.
In the process there may well be net dis-accumulation of capital.

In Britain the Tories promoted the privatisation of water and electricity
on the grounds that this would lead to greater investment than could be
achieved under public ownership. What has actually happened is that
investment has fallen, wages have fallen and profits have soared along
with prices to the consumer. At present the industry is undergoing
a rapid process of centralisation with predatory takeover bids, but
there is little evidence that accumulation has much to do with it.
Being able to cut back on wage costs and to establish monopoly positions
seems the main motive.

>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?

Sorry about this. The criterion that I have used in the past is to measure
net accumulation out of disposable surplus value. By disposable surplus value
I mean profits plus rent less stock appreciation, but not wages of
unproductive workers.
By net accumulation I mean gross capital formation less depreciation.

>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.

I dispute that the inequality necessarily holds, and even where it does
I dispute the interpretation that Andrew places on it.

Expanded reproduction of the capitalist mode of production is possible
without it being the case that Iv + Is > IIc. Under conditions of
falling organic composition, a larger labour force can be employed
with the same, or even a lesser value of constant capital stock,
year on year. In that case, there can be an accumulation of variable
capital without the inequality holding.

This is not to deny that the inequality is often satisfied, but
in what sense is this production for productions sake? In terms of
use values one can certainly say that the purpose of production in
department I is further production, so that department I is engaged
in production for the sake of production. But this a statement
about the nature of technology and would be true under other
modes of production as well. The expanded reproduction of
slavery and feudalism would have entailed it as well, if one
assumes sufficiently slow technical change. But we must not
identify the growth of the means of production with the growth of
capital, otherwise, we, like Rostostozev, would be seeing capitalism
in the most unlikely places.

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)