[OPE-L:3768] Re: Ne Hic Saltaveris!

Gil Skillma (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Tue, 3 Dec 1996 16:20:39 -0800 (PST)

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A reply to Jerry, mostly for the sake of our ongoing discussion. Others may
want to blip.

When I say---
>> [...] However, it is inescapable that Marx insists on the *analytical*
>> centrality
>> of price-value equivalence in his subsequent resolution of his enigma. He
>> concludes: "We therefore have a double *result.* The transformation of
>> money into capital *has to be developed on the basis of the immanent
>> laws of the exchange of commodities, in such a way that the
>> starting-point is the exchange of equivalents.*" [I, 268-9; emphasis
>> added]. [...]

Jerry responds---

>Perhaps you should have added emphasis around *the starting-point*. It
>seems to me that this is a legitimate simplifying assumption (rather than
>a final result), provided one then -- at a later stage of the analysis --
>examines cases where there is non-equivalent exchange.

To say this is to assert that there is something interesting or relevant
about the "simplifying" case of price-value equivalence. Not only is there
not, but as I've argued, this case is *essentially misleading*, since a
world in which surplus value exists is *essentially* a world of price-value
nonequivalence. The option of buying labor power *as a commodity* provides
a _logically_ possible escape hatch for this judgment, but a _substantively_
meaningless and misleading one, since a) prices need not equal values even
when markets for labor power exist, and b) one must still explain why
capitalists have to gain access to the use value of labor power by
purchasing it as a commodity. They did not have to in the surplus-value
producing cases of usury extended to small producers or proto-industrial
merchant's capital. Thus, price-value equivalence *cannot* be considered an
innocuous "simplifying assumption".

Next, where I say:

>> That is: of course capitalists must gain access to the *use value* of
>> labor power in order to make a profit, but they need not do so by
>> purchasing labor power as a commodity, as opposed to lending workers
>> the means of production, as in the historical circuit of usury capital,
>> or hiring contractually specified labor *services*, as in the the
>> historical circuit of proto-industrial capital (e.g., the putting-out
>> system). [...]

Jerry responds---

>(1) These are not _typical_ of capital/labor relations under
>*capitalism*. To the extent that they continue to exist at all, they
>might be viewed as remnants of prior relations between capital and
>labor *before* capitalism became the dominant mode of production [more

Yes, of course I agree, as I stated earlier. However, the *reason* they are
"remnants of prior relations between capital and labor" has *nothing
whatsoever* to do with the considerations Marx raises in Ch. 5. Thus,
Marx's subsequent focus on the purchase of labor power *as a commodity* and
its exploitation under *capitalist production* (characterized first by
formal then real subsumption) is an *utter* _non sequitur_ relative to
Marx's argument in Chapter 5. The legitimate basis for Marx's focus, as
I've argued, are historical-strategic rather than the value-theoretic
concerns Marx addresses in Ch. 5.

Jerry continues--

>(2) There are good historical and *analytical* reasons to believe that
>these forms of labor relations where labor power is not a commodity in
>the traditional sense of the term will not continue to be reproduced on
>an extended basis under conditions of advanced capitalism. Indeed,
>already in Ch 13 there are reasons advanced why capital would benefit by
>having cooperation among workers in the labor process (rather than
>lending them means of production). Further, in Chs. 14-15 there are other
>reasons advanced related to the nature of the division of labor,
>manufacture, and "modern industry" for why capital can benefit by this
>process of the real subsumption of labor under capitalism.

I agree up to a point. The benefits of cooperation, scale, and automation
Marx addresses in Chs 13-15 do not *of themselves* imply the need to subsume
labor under capital, contrary to Jerry's suggestion. For example, there is
no *logical* impossibility in having these benefits arise in
proto-industrial class relations. There *are* historically contingent
*strategic* reasons why capitalists must subsume labor in order to realize
gains in relative surplus value from these forms, however. These reasons,
again, have nothing to do with Marx's arguments in Ch. 5 or the beginning of
Ch. 6, and that was my central point.

Jerry continues:

>(3) Despite the previous two points, it is the case that both the lending
>of means of production by capital to laborers and the putting-out system
>continue to exist on a limited basis in different regions of the
>capitalist world. Indeed, in some regions of the world they may be
>important forms of labor (as in parts of the so-called "informal sector"
>in some less developed capitalist nations). If part of what you are
>saying is that these conditions need to be analyzed, then I *agree* with
>you. However, I see this as more of a "post-Capital" subject, then one
>that should be analyzed at the level of abstraction of V1.

Not really, unless you think it's OK that all of Marx's analysis subsequent
to Ch 5 is a complete _non sequitur_ relative to the analysis through
Chapter 5. This should seem a bit troubling, especially since Marx clearly
intends the arguments in ch. 6 and beyond to follow from what went before.
But they don't.

To put it another way: usury capital extended to small producers and
proto-industrial merchant's capital served as vehicles for the reaping of
surplus value prior to capitalism. Something happened in the historical
transition to capitalism that made these forms generally inadequate bases
for reaping surplus value. *As a consequence*, exploitation of labor under
capitalism took the predominant form of wage labor subsumed under capitalist
production. But since this is a *consequence*, it is not legitimate to
*assume* this as a starting point for explaining surplus value.

Furthermore, Marx evidently accepts this judgment, because he goes to great
pains in Ch. 5 to provide a basis for his subsequent focus on the purchase
of labor power as a commodity, etc. But his Ch. 5 argument is invalid, a
point Jerry does not contest here.

Now where I say--

>> [Of course an analytical justification for Marx's focus exists, but as I've
>> argued earlier here and in the S& S article, the basis for this
>> justification is in historically contingent strategic terms concerning the
>> nature of class conflict in production, not value-theoretic terms.]

Jerry replies--

>I don't see why these subjects can't be developed and understood in terms
>of *both* the "historically contingent strategic terms concerning the
>nature of class conflict in production" *and* "value-theoretic terms."

Answer: the "value theoretic" story is essentially irrelevant to the
question of why exploitation is now primarily based on the purchase and
exploitation of *wage labor*. Worse, it's also misleading, since it imputes,
falsely, a special analytical significance or relevance to the case in which
all commodities exchange at their respective values. There is none, in general.

To put it another way: sure, as an accounting matter, one might wish to
state the relevant historical-strategic story in labor value terms. But
other than for nostalgia's sake, there is no particularly compelling reason
to do so. This is not to deny that the value framework might be useful for
addressing other questions that have been raised on this list.

Where I say--

>> I agree that it is necessary for Marx to prove that surplus value does not
>> rise *solely* from exchange.

Jerry replies--

>It is certainly the case that individual capitalists can gain from
>non-equivalent exchange. I think it is confusing, though, to refer to
>that gain as surplus value or exploitation.

I don't. In fact I go to great pains to affirm the opposite, that for Marx
surplus value presumes the creation of new value. But that is not the point
being addressed in the passage above. Granting that surplus value must
represent newly created value, it may still be the case that capitalists
must *realize* that surplus value in exchange on the basis of price-value
inequalities, as in the case of usury capital and proto-industrial capital.
This is the reason why Marx's "double result" at the end of Ch. 5 is a fallacy.

Where I continue--

>> In lieu of a conclusion I'll ask a few questions: do you think that the
>> connection between surplus value in the capitalist mode of production and
>> the purchase of labor power as a commodity is purely incidental, or only a
>> matter of simplifying assumptions?

Jerry responds--

>No, it is not "purely incidental": the creation of a labor force "free" in
>the double-sense of the term was a historical and logical prerequisite
>for capitalist production and social relations. However, since the topic
>of investigation is capitalism, one can legitimately (at least initially)
>view this process as a _fait accompli_.

But if one *only* treats it as a _fait accompli_, there is necessarily no
basis for judging whether the purchase of labor power as a commodity and its
subsumption under capitalist production is any more or less incidental than
price-value disparities, another " _fait accompli_". Thus it's only
legitimate to beg this question if you don't focus on it as the basis for
surplus value. But Marx does.

>> If not, what *analytical* basis does Marx give for his focus beginning in
>> Ch. 6 on buying labor power *as a commodity* rather than lending the means
>> of production to workers or hiring contractually specific labor *services*
>> (both of which occur under the capitalist mode of production, even as a
>> descriptive matter)?

Jerry replies--

>See above.

To which I respond--

See above.

In solidarity,