[OPE-L:2695] RE: NB: conlee

Michael Williams (100417.2625@compuserve.com)
Sat, 20 Jul 1996 18:25:30 -0700 (PDT)

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A long time ago, Paul responded to some comments of mine indicating a complex
characterisation of a commodity:

Paul said:
On the basis you state, the cotton entering Engels cotton factory was
not a commodity either since it was not produced under capitalist relations
of production.

To which Michael W:
That is correct. It is surely plausible that the dynamics by which raw materials
are drawn out by markets from non-capitalist economies will be significantly
different from the dynamics if their source is a developed capitalist economy?

Paul goes on:
You are adopting a uniquely restrictive definition of commodities, for which
I can see little precedent or justification.

Michael W
Since your posting, a thread has emerged on OPE-L discussing a similar
disagreement about the epochally specific characterisation of (abstract) labour.
It has become clear that our differences are driven by differing methodological
At the risk of caricature, I think the core of these may be summarised as
follows: -

1. Paul (and Allin): label - 'Marxist Economics'; project - theoretical and
empirical elaboration of the implications of the physical and technological
sub-structure common to all historical epochs; prime ontological commitment - to
this transhistorical substructure of abstract labour times; research techniques
- economic and econometric modelling.

2. Michael W (and, I think, a few others): label - 'post-Hegelian Marxist
critique of economics' (for marketting purposes 'the new dialectics' cf Chris
Arthur); project - critical understanding of the meanings of the conceptual
structures of economics and bourgeois everday consciousness, as a basis for the
critique of the bourgeois epoch which they constitute; prime ontological
commitment - to a dynamic self-reproducing and transforming social system,
constituted by structural and intentional internal relations between its
elements; research techniques - critical appropriation of existing accounts of
(elements of) the bourgeois epoch - both 'scientific' and 'everyday', and of
criticism of 'our' system as it develops.

Of course, we may interpret these two approaches as largely complementary
perspectives, focussing on different aspects of reality. I, for example, do not
deny the existent of physical and technological constraints on the possibilites
for paths of reproduction of capitalist economies. However, we clearly differ on
the nature of what exists, which leads to the discussions now in progress.

Well, having attempted that clarification, I should add that I think it is
rarely helpful to try to settle disputes with methodological karate chops. It is
usually helpful to try to carry on a dialogue without RELYING on a disputed
methdological postulate.

In this spirit, I would say that my characterisation of a commodity is not, I
think unique, and it is intended to be restrictive. It seems well within the
precedents in the Marxist tradition to argue that the truth about a specific
historical epoch is socio-historically specific. It is to be sought in that
which differentiates it within the flux of history.
I would also argue that Marx, in Capital taken as a whole, characterises a
(capitalist) commodity in the way I have alluded to. He is concerned (primarily)
with the bourgeois forms of allocation of human creative potential, which is
indeed generalised capitalist commodity production and exchange. Thus the
essential nature of the (capitalist) commodity is to be sought in the
complexities of the internal relations which locate it within such a system. It
is thus in Marx and in subsequent value-form interpretations of his work that I
would seek both both precendent and prima facie justification for 'my'
characterisation of commodity. Further justification relies on the success of
the systematic presentation in which the characterisation emerges, including the
abiltiy to critically appropriate, and if necessary adapt to, criticism of it.

A pragmatic justification would emerge to the extent that such such conceptual
system helped to provide an interpretation of 'your' economic models and
econometric results.

Well, that's enough for now. I'm working irregularly and slowly through the
various posts on method, commodity and labour.

Comradely greetings

Michael W.