Re: [OPE] Odyssey and the Peruvian treasure

From: Jurriaan Bendien <>
Date: Wed Feb 11 2009 - 02:50:18 EST

Well, the Marxists and heterodox people in your "camp" can argue that a commodity is a product of human labor which is produced *in order to be sold*, but Marx and myself argue that commodities (Kaufwaren) are wares intended for sale in the market, normally products of human labour. (I am leaving out of consideration pseudo-commodities or fictitious/imputed commodities here).

We are not conflating product with commodity, but rather we are making a number of additional distinctions which are necessary for a scientific approach to economic history. These distinctions are overlooked by vulgar Marxism (the vulgarity consist in overlooking them).

The view taken by Marx in Das Kapital and also by myself (and also e.g. by the Uno school in Japan, by Roman Rosdolsky and people like that) is one which aims to understand and explain consistently how markets emerge and grow, in real economic history, in other words, how the transitions from:

(1) subsistence economy (production of use-values by means of use-values) to
(2) sale of exchange-values produced by means of non-commoditized inputs, and to
(3) "production of commoditized outputs only by means of commoditized inputs" ("generalised commodity production")

really occur - in order to understand better what the social conflicts and clashes of human understandings are about, their historical roots.

This also has highly important implications for the analysis of how the law of value emerges and asserts itself in different phases of the development of trade and production, among other things, because the exchangeability of inputs and outputs of production is contingent on transformations of property relations and property rights, and this does not happen all at once or without social conflict.

If the definition of a "commodity" is static, superhistorical, reified and eternal as the Marxists depict it, a sort of Kantian or Sraffian metaphysical apriori category, rather than an historically evolutionary one, then in fact we fail to explain the disposition of a very significant fraction of world output of goods and a large part of services, because they may be sold, but alternatively be utilised without market mediation.

We fail to explain the processes whereby an economy can evolve from a subsistence economy to a fullfledged commercial economy in which all inputs and outputs are commoditized.

All we have then is a conceptual scheme which fails to make sense of what really happens in history, namely it fails to explain how commodity trade typically originates at the boundaries of economic communities, but gradually, through various evolutions and revolutions, engulfs the whole production process of those communities.

As a result, all we can say is that the law of value "dropped out of the air" one fine day - that is wonderful poetry maybe, but not scientifically tenable. All we can say is, that one day there was subsistence economy, the next day there was commercial economy, whereas in reality we are dealing with complex transformative processes that took centuries, or even more than 10,000 years, to occur.

In trying to explain the transition from pre-capitalist modes of production to capitalism, or depicting history in terms of a progression of modes of production, most Marxist historians made a laughing stock of themselves in the profession. Why?

Because they insist on imposing prefabricated, schematic concepts and narratives on history, instead of studying the historical facts and historically relativising the use of concepts. What makes the whole thing even more ridiculous however is that this prefabricated, schematic Marxist concept and narrative was demonstrably and irrefutably never even held by Marx and Engels themselves!!! It's a double falsification, a falsification of history and a falsification of theory. No wonder then that the Marxists fail in their bid to unite history and theory - they respect neither; their much-flaunted "erudition" and pretension to stand on Marx's shoulders is spurious.

For another relevant example of the Marxist approach, Marxists think themselves very important, weighty and profound (not to say revolutionary and radical) by declaring "there has never been any society of petty commodity production". But in reality, if you look at the early days of settler colonialism in the United States (and some other colonial settler states), it was precisely a "society dominated by petty commodity production", which indeed helps explain the petit-bourgeois mentality that became a distinctive part of the settler ethos, the settler ideology.

Fortunately there are also genuine researchers in anthropology, history, archaeology, economic history etc. who are intelligent enough to understand the implications of concepts, and thus tell the difference between a "philosophy of history" and historical science.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Gerald Levy
  To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
  Sent: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 1:50 AM
  Subject: Re: [OPE] Odyssey and the Peruvian treasure

> Well just to save a lot of ostentation, my view is that products possess the attribute of value
> simply and minimally because it takes human effort to produce them, and they have that value
> irrespective of whether they currently happen to be traded and irrespective of whether they have
> prices or not.


  You are entitled to your own opinion, but that view of 'commodity' - imo- conflates 'product' with
  'commodity'. The category of commodity in my view - and in the view of almost all (?) heterodox
  economists - is more specific than the more general trans-historical category of (labor) product.
  This includes the specification that a commodity is a product of human labor which is produced *in
  order to be sold*. This contrasts with a product which might be produced in order to be consumed
  directly by the direct producer - as was the case historically with many forms of subsistence farming.
  So long as people have existed, so have products (which is another way of saying that production in
  general is necessary for human survival). Commodity production, though, is more specific in meaning.

  In solidarity, Jerry


  ope mailing list

ope mailing list
Received on Wed Feb 11 02:55:36 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Mar 24 2009 - 20:30:37 EDT