[OPE-L:3400] Re: accumulation of capital revisited

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Mon, 14 Oct 1996 06:56:16 -0700 (PDT)

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An answer to Massumo's [OPE-L:3397] and Andrew K's [OPE-L:3398]:

Massimo wrote:

> Who said that wage labour was irrelevant to Marx? Yes, the analysis
> of primitive accumulation is an historical investigation into the process
> by which the wage labouring population came into being, that is, into
> A FORM in which people were separated from their commons. It is
> THIS separation that forms the central precondition of capitalism,
> not the wage form as such. But of course this would be, in Paul C
> words, a reversion to the essentialism of Hegelian idealism:

As Paul and I have different perspectives on Hegelian "essentialism", let
me answer this question as well. Wage-Labour is indeed a historical form.
It is the form that Marx thought was the defining form that labour took
under capitalism. This form represents the *necessary* appearance that
labour must assume in general under capitalism. That form is derived from
his analysis of the commodity, value, the value-form, etc.. If we are to
say that capitalism does not require that labour take the form of
wage-labour, then we need to fundamentally reject the *whole* of Marx's
theory and begin again by analyzing capitalism not with an analysis of the
commodity and value, use-value, and the value-form, but from some *other*
starting point. What would you propose?

> But in this
> dispute what is worthy to point out is this: Paul C. overlooks
> what a social system is FOR; processes do not matter
> in a crude empiricist framework.

You say that capitalism is for profit and the "endless drive to
accumulation." Yet: a) the category of profit under capitalism is related
to the categories labour power [as a *commodity*] and wage-labour; and b)
accumulation of capital, as Marx understands it, is where s is converted
into increased c + v. By assuming that labour doesn't have to take the
form of wage-labour and v can = 0, you end up in a situation where the
accumulation of capital is *theoretically* impossible.

> This is correct, but has nothing to do with the definition of capitalism.

Define capitalism.

> It has however to do with the debate over whether v = 0. So I concede
> the fact that in a slave or prison camp v would be different than zero
> it simply would not appear in the wage form. But there is an example
> I can make for which v = 0 and workers reproduce themselves. In the case
> in which workers work for subsistence on their land outside the cash
> economy and they are forced by the government to pay a tax in cash. They
> are thus forced to set some of the land for cash products, just enough to pay
> the tax. These products are then purchased by the government
> who sell them to capitalists who use them as imputs of production.
> In this case v = 0 even if the workers are linked through a cash nexus
> to the global economy. It is a situation very common in many development
> strategies.

Independent commodity producers on the land are not workers, they are
petty-bourgeois since unlike wage-earners they own and control means of
production which allows them to exist outside of the direct
wage labour-capital relation.

> But of course, what Andrew was pointing out was beyond the concreteness
> of examples like this. To set v = 0 and ASSUME people live on
> air, is to reinforce the case that shows that the internal dynamics
> of a social system based on profit (endless drive to accumulation)
> is independent of wage and has to do with labour at the
> point of production.

Andrew K thought this was a "good point" in #3398. Yet, that "good point"
is dependent on a very special understanding of accumulation, labour, and
capitalism which is very much at odds with Marx's conception, IMHO. As
noted previously, accumulation *by definition* requires that v > 0. Your
very controversial assertions that accumulation is independent of wages
and variable capital need textual support if they are intended to
represent Marx's perspective, IMHO.

[BTW to Andrew: if you think that commodities, value, money, wage-labour
v, etc. are NOT essential parts of Marx's analysis, then I will be more
than willing to show that *your* (as distinct from the TSS) "score" in
"The Scorecard" reduces to -0-].

In Solidarity,