From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Mon Dec 19 2005 - 00:39:57 EST
I've copied below excerpts from the text of a review by Resnick and Wolff of Harvey's work called "Dialectics and Class, etc." The URL for the complete article is http://www.newschool.edu/gf/nser/articles/0101_resnicks_wolffr_dialecticsandclass_fall04_final.pdf The excerpt begins with a few paragraphs devoted to method and then the section on Commodity Production. Two other sections appear in the article: "Space" and then last "Profit Rate." I'd be interested in comments on the analysis and methodology. Howard * * * * * * * * * * NSER Vol. 1 No. 1 RESNICK & WOLFF: DIALECTICS AND CLASS 91 The New School Economic Review Volume 1 Fall 2004 Number 1 Dialectics and Class in Marxian Economics: David Harvey and Beyond Stephen Resnick Richard Wolff Department of Economics University of Massachusetts-Amherst p. 9 * * * The role of class as conceptual entry point raises the question of the relation between class processes and all the non-class processes within the economy and society. The process of class might be thought to determine, in the first or last instance, the economy's forces of production, commodity production, profit rate, and perforce the superstructure's processes of property ownership, power, and culture. Similarly, class might be thought to govern the spatial location of all these processes. Classical Marxism reasons in that way: the mode of production structures the economic base and the superstructure. It reduces the evolution of the economy, society, and the physical environment to the fundamentally determining contradictions at its base. This classical economic determinism holds that the contradictions between the base's relations and forces of production govern social changes elsewhere. Another and very different kind of causal relationality has also informed Marxism. Labeled "overdetermination" and critically appropriated from Freud by Lukacs and then Althusser, it refuses to conceive of processes as either causes or effects.4 Instead, each and every individual process within society is conceived as a site of different effectivities emanating from all the other social processes. Each process is thus both cause and effect; each partly constitutes and is constituted by all the others. To affirm this kind of relational logic as the distinctively Marxian dialectic implies certain theses. First, no social or physical process can be treated as existing independently from the others, since each is caused literally by the different effectivities emanating from the others. Second, it follows that no one process can be deduced from any one other process. Finally, it follows that no particular process can be deemed to be more or less important in its causation than any other. Indeed, the unique impact of any one process on any NSER Vol. 1 No. 1 RESNICK & WOLFF: DIALECTICS AND CLASS 100 and all others is itself a result of how that one process is constituted by them. These three theses necessarily vitiate economic or any other kind of determinism. III. A. Commodity Production Let us now return to the opening lines of Capital to read our three focal topics - commodity production, space, and profit rate - from and with the entry points of (1) class as surplus labor and (2) the dialectic understood as overdetermination. Commodity production then becomes the first of ever so many non-class processes introduced by Marx and then linked by him to class processes so as to give the interdependent meanings he intends to both class and commodity production. Indeed, the contradictory relationship of class processes, especially capitalist exploitation, and commodities becomes one of several central themes across the three volumes of Capital. Following this kind of dialectical logic, once Marx introduces commodity production, he immediately explores its relations with other social processes as his way of progressively constructing/enriching the meaning of - quite literally defining - commodity production. Like every other process to which Marx relates it, commodity production is the site of the effectivities of those other social processes. The latter include the many non-class processes cited in the first two hundred pages of Capital: wealth produced for sale, wealth possessed of a use value in and to society; wealth produced by concrete labor using a particular technology (the forces of production); wealth exchangeable for a universal equivalent (money); and so forth. Marx's predecessors noted many of these non-class processes (as he acknowledged). What Marx adds that is new and that reworks his predecessors' insights is his connection of commodity production to the capitalist fundamental class process, i.e. to exploitation. Marx reveals the NSER Vol. 1 No. 1 RESNICK & WOLFF: DIALECTICS AND CLASS 101 production and appropriation of surplus as a dimension of capitalist commodities. Class processes (surplus production, exploitation, etc.) and commodity production are theorized as conditions of each other's existence, mutually constitutive, components of each other's definitions in an altogether original formulation. Embracing the notion of overdetermination in this way has profound implications. In adding each of these related and hence constitutive processes, the meaning of a commodity changes continually from what it was when introduced at the beginning of Capital to what it becomes as the text proceeds. Hence the meaning of commodity production cannot be conceived as ever fixed, nor can it be reduced to some basic foundational determinant. Rather, it necessarily changes across Capital, because the successively introduced social processes across each volume continually reconstitute its qualitative and quantitative meaning. Marx used the words "socially necessary " (in progressively modifying abstract labor time) to capture his dialectical conception of a commodity's meaning as a site of other processes' differing and changing political, cultural, and economic determinations. Consider, for one example, the difference in the qualitative meaning of a commodity as initially posed in volume 1 of Capital from what it has become at the end of that volume. One hundred and fifty pages into the volume, Marx introduces the capitalist fundamental class process as a condition of existence of commodity production. In his manner of relating commodity production and class, Marx changes the very meaning of a commodity. It is made different from his predecessors' definitions and indeed also from what had been developed as its elaborated definition in the first 150 pages. He first showed how commodity production could (and in Europe did) evolve from pre-capitalist forms to enable and yield a specifically capitalist commodity. He then proceeded to explore the feedback effects as capitalist class processes NSER Vol. 1 No. 1 RESNICK & WOLFF: DIALECTICS AND CLASS 102 reacted back upon commodities to shape what they became, namely specifically capitalist commodities. "The commodity that emerges from capitalist production is different from the commodity we began with as the element, the precondition of capitalist production" (Marx, 1990, 953). The difference is that it is now a "product of capital", namely a container of surplus value (Ibid. 954). Theorizing in this way opens new analytical possibilities in social analysis. For example, commodities may emerge from capitalist as differentiated from non-capitalist class structures of production. Thus, communist commodities would be products not only of labor, technology, exchange, and so on, but also of specifically communist class structures of production (where the collective of producers is identically also the appropriator of the surpluses it produces).5 Similarly, feudal, slave, and simple (self-employed labor) commodities become possible components of such aggregate abstractions as "commodity exchange" and "commodity production." Such qualitative differentiation among commodities - which coexist in varying proportions in many societies - becomes important because the very meanings of commodity, value, price, and so on vary with their different class dimensions (or determinants). Consider a second example in which the quantitative meaning of a capitalist commodity develops across the volumes of Capital. In the first volume's conception of competition, where different capitals (enterprises) compete for profits within one industry; "socially necessary abstract labor time" refers to the weighted average of each individual enterprise's abstract labor time needed per unit of output. Each commodity's value becomes literally the site (the weighted average) of such quantitative differences among the enterprises in the industry producing that commodity. Harvey's (1982, 338) insight is pertinent here: "The abstract labor embodied at particular locations under specific concrete conditions is a social average taken across all NSER Vol. 1 No. 1 RESNICK & WOLFF: DIALECTICS AND CLASS 103 locations and conditions." Hence no commodity's value can be reduced to the technology of any one enterprise. It is rather the (overdetermined) product of all the social processes shaping the individual labor productivities located within the particular set of enterprises comprising the industry generating that commodity. Then, in volume 3, Marx enlarges the scope of the competition faced by each capitalist enterprise to include capitals competing for profits from all other industries. As is well known, a new meaning of value emerges once inter-industry competition is theoretically introduced and integrated into the preceding analysis. Marx gives this new "form" of value the name, "price of production." Less well known but logically implied by Marx's dialectical approach is the necessary reconceptualization of value itself required by the theoretical integration of inter-industry competition. Every commodity's value now becomes the product of the living labor required for its production plus the price of production the capitalist has to pay for the commodity inputs (raw materials, tools, and equipment) with which the living labor works. In this way, commodity values become dependent upon commodity prices of production - a new insight flowing from an overdeterminist perspective - as well as prices of production being dependent upon commodity values as has long been thought within Marxism (Wolff, Roberts, and Callari 1982, 1984). Conceiving of commodities in this dialectical way vitiates the so-called transformation problem and critique that has long bedeviled Marxian economics. The traditional critiques of and offered solutions to Marx's transformation share a common reductionism: they reduce prices to values and the latter to the volume 1 notion of a commodity and competition. In contrast, theorizing value as overdetermined such that successive determinants of value are explored and integrated into its meaning/definition yields a developed notion of value in volume 3 that dissolves the old price-value critique of Marxian value theory originated by Bohm-Bawerk and NSER Vol. 1 No. 1 RESNICK & WOLFF: DIALECTICS AND CLASS 104 reiterated by countless critics since.6 It does so by simultaneously transforming value into prices of production and prices of production into value.
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