[OPE-L:3388] RE: accumulation of capital revisited

Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Sun, 13 Oct 1996 11:53:29 -0700 (PDT)

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Andrew extends our exchange based on the passage from his earlier post:

>"Despite what folks like Roemer might want us to believe, it is absolutely
>impossible for markets to substitute for this power of capital over labor "at
>the point of production," as Marxists used to say. Even if workers were to
>contract "voluntarily" to do more work than the equivalent they receive in
>wages, the power of the State would be needed to ENFORCE those contracts, and
>there's nothing voluntary about that enforcement from the workers' point of
>view, absolutely nothing."

To which I responded,

"Despite Andrew's suggestion to the contrary, Roemer would certainly not
deny this."

To which Andrew now replies,

>I'm glad to hear this. Why, then, is Roemer typically construed as arguing
>that exploitation arises from property "relations" and unequal distribution of
>resources, and not in the production process?

This answer suggests a need to make some distinctions.

1) Roemer like Marx is primarily concerned with the exploitation associated
with the creation of new value in production (i.e., the form of exploitation
arising in private ownership economies with markets for capital and/or labor
power), as opposed to the redistribution of pre-existing value (which he
calls unequal exchange exploitation and associates with economies not having
such markets). Roemer agrees with Marx that unequal class distribution of
productive assets is a necessary condition for such exploitation.

2) Roemer, apparently unlike Marx, thinks that such unequal distribution is
a *sufficient* condition for exploiting direct producers. However, Roemer
would certainly not deny Andrew's point that "the power of the State would
be needed to ENFORCE those contracts, and there's nothing voluntary about
that enforcement from the workers' point of view, absolutely nothing." But
to the extent capitalists can rely on the power of the state to enforce
their appropriation of newly created value, then the locus of *conflict*
over this process of appropriation is not in the production process,
granting that the value to be appropriated is necessarily created in the
production process.

Remember in this connection the premise of Andrew's "even if" clause:
"workers were to contract "voluntarily" to do more work than the equivalent
they receive in
wages..." If this is truly "voluntary", then there is no basis for class
conflict *in production.*

I think there is also a question as to how categorically Marx insists that
capitalist production relations are necessary for the mere *existence* of
surplus value, but we don't need to get into that here. I agree with Andrew
that Roemer's analysis slights the capitalist production process as the
locus specificus of capitalist exploitation, but this does not negate
Roemer's probable agreement with Andrew's specific claim.

Andrew continues:

> What is he actually arguing,
>instead --- that capitalist relations of production are compatible with
>different property forms and contractual relations? --- which is how I
>understand your own argument, and which is definitely something I can really
>get behind!

For what it's worth I'd put the main implication of my argument slightly
differently: in the long view, capitalist property relations are compatible
with different relations of production and contractual relations, and which
form of the latter emerges depend on historically specific conditions of
production and exchange. To put it another way, it is not a historical
accident that circuits of capital long preceded capitalist relations of
production, and the latter came to prevail only after certain dramatic
changes occured in the class distribution of property.

> The critique of Roemer's work would then be a complete inversion
>of the content of his argument, since his argument would then be reinforcing
>in a novel way (as yours does) Marx's stress on the importance of the
>capital/labor relation in production as against property forms and contractual

Yes, it would be a complete inversion. As you can see I'm not trying to
accomplish that--instead, just the more modest suggestion that Marxists
should not reject Roemer's analysis as uncritically as they have. Roemer's
analysis perhaps does not go far enough, but what he's accomplished is valid
and sufficient to refute important fallacies in both mainstream and
traditional Marxian thought. Or so I think.

In solidarity, Gil