Forwarded from Abu Hartel (origins of capitalism)

Julio Huato juliohuato at hotmail.com
Fri Jul 4 10:00:06 MDT 2003


Abu Hartel wrote:

>Marx's short discussion in volume I.
>
>1. Someone argued that there has to be a purely economic relationship
>between the means of production and the worker. I don't know what this
>means.

It is different to say that (1) "you have to be a dancer" than (2) "If you
want to call yourself a performance artist, then you have to be a dancer."
(1) is about what you have to be to fit someone's desire.  (2) is a logical
condition for a term to be applied properly.

Aside from their content, terms have certain objectivity.  Just because we
don't like the meaning of a term doesn't mean we can change it at will.  Its
people who, by daily usage, end up deciding what terms retain their meaning,
what terms change it, and what terms disappear.  But it is not for one
individual to decide it.  It is not an arbitrary tag game -- 'call it
socialism, communism, or pretzelism.'

There is a large body of Marxist classical literature.  There are certain
fundamental categories in this literature, 'capitalist production' and
'surplus value' are some of them. They have definite meanings that can be
fetched by reading the classical texts directly.  We shouldn't be fuzzy
about new concepts or terms designating things with no previous denotation.
Words are to denote reality and reality has no reason to try to fit itself
into words.

But we should be stricter with the terms that Marx took such pains to build
into his work.  As a Marxist list, the least we can do is to be mindful of
the meaning of categories used in the classical Marxist literature.  Things
change and demand adjustment, but discontinuity in an intellectual tradition
has a cost.  We don't want each generation of Marxists to have to reinvent
the wheel.

So, it is not out of pedantic dogmatism that I claim that 'capitalist
production' excludes production with forced labor.  If you want to change
the content of a Marxist category, then you need to persuade people that the
meaning you wish to attach to it is more helpful than the consistent meaning
it previously had.  And then people may alter their use of terms.  Until
then, for the sake of coherent communication, it's better to stick to the
classical usage.

So, my contention is along (2).  Not along (1).  I view the development of
capitalism as a process of 'natural history'.  This process is objective to
the extent social life is objective.  Moreover, this is an alienated
process, in the sense that we don't control it as individuals.  So, I
believe my desires about the course of capitalist development are
irrelevant.  What is crucial is that we examine such development with a cool
head and with well-tested analytical tools.

>Marx argues that in early capitalism the state or coercion played a crucial
>role in securing the proletariat. Do ear clipping and branding count as an
>economic relationship?

There is an important difference between the birth of an organism and its
development as a fully formed entity.  There is nowhere in my argument the
claim that coercion, plunder, etc. played no part in giving birth to
capitalist production or that they disappear altogother afterwards.  My
claim, based on reading Marx and my own experience, is that the development
of capitalist production entails -- not in a straight line but as a tendency
-- that the bulk of exploitation be based on free wage labor and not on
direct coercion.

Julio

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