Friday, 2 December 2016

Capital III, Chapter 51 - Part 5

In order to understand this specific character, and movement of production of capitalism, as a system, it is necessary to understand its main features, and how they differ from other forms of production, rather than to simply take what is common to all forms of production, every labour process.

Under capitalism, as already stated, labour exists as wage labour, separated from the means of production and land, whilst the means of production exist as capital, in the hands of a minority, whilst land exists as capitalist landed property, as a commodity that is bought and sold, but which again is in the hands of a minority. These different forms of property are antagonistic to each other. These different classes of property are the material foundations of social classes, human beings being merely the personification of these classes of property, and the class struggle being a manifestation of the struggle between these different forms of property, that develops out of the production process, and the conditions of distribution and reproduction it engenders.

That production process, under capitalism, has two specific characteristics, which distinguish it from other modes of production, and which in turn, determine the conditions under which distribution and reproduction occur.

“First. It produces its products as commodities.” (p 879)

Other societies produce commodities too. Later, in examining Engels' Supplement, I will examine the way that commodity production goes back at least 7,000 years, and Marx, earlier in Capital, made a similar point, which rather makes a mockery of the claims of those Marxist economists, who argue that “value” is specific to capitalism. In fact, Engels, using the term in a specific sense, states,

“...thus, the law of value has prevailed during a period of from five to seven thousand years.” (p 900)

However, the commodities produced in these societies form only a small proportion of total production. Production is not based around their production and so they do not play a decisive role in determining what is produced, or how it is produced, or how what is produced is subsequently distributed.

In societies existing prior to any commodity production at all, social labour-time is expended on the production not of commodities, but of products, that is use values that have been created by free human labour, and which, therefore, have value, as opposed to those use values provided free by nature, and which consequently have no value. It is this fact, which again contradicts the claims of those who argue that value is specific to commodity production, or even just capitalism, which Marx and Engels demonstrate provides the historical and logical basis for these products to be transformed into commodities, as they begin to be traded between communities, and for the value of these products to then take the form of of the exchange value of commodities.

“This agrees also with the view we expressed previously that the evolution of products into commodities arises through exchange between different communities, not between the members of the same community. It holds not only for this primitive condition, but also for subsequent conditions, based on slavery and serfdom, and for the guild organisation of handicrafts, so long as the means of production involved in each branch of production can be transferred from one sphere to another only with difficulty and therefore the various spheres of production are related to one another, within certain limits, as foreign countries or communist communities.” (Chapter 10, p 177)

But, even as this trade between communities and then within communities results in some production taking the form of commodity production and exchange, the bulk of production continues to take the form of products not commodities, as the producers produce to meet their own direct needs. In fact, it is this very fact that they know the value of those products, i.e. the labour-time required for their production, that enables them to determine the exchange value of commodities at this stage. 

“The little that such a family had to obtain by barter or buy from outside, even up to the beginning of the 19th century in Germany, consisted principally of the objects of handicraft production — that is, such things the nature of whose manufacture was by no means unknown to the peasant, and which he did not produce himself only because he lacked the raw material or because the purchased article was much better or very much cheaper. Hence, the peasant of the Middle Ages knew fairly accurately the labour-time required for the manufacture of the articles obtained by him in barter. The smith and the cartwright of the village worked under his eyes; likewise, the tailor and shoemaker — who in my youth still paid their visits to our Rhine peasants, one after another, turning home-made materials into shoes and clothing. The peasants, as well as the people from whom they bought, were themselves workers; the exchanged articles were each one's own products. What had they expended in making these products? Labour and labour alone: to replace tools, to produce raw material, and to process it, they spent nothing but their own labour-power; how then could they exchange these products of theirs for those of other labouring producers otherwise than in the ratio of labour expended on them?” (Engels Supplement, p 897)

In fact, as Engels points out, what characterises capitalism, and so commodity exchange from around the fifteenth century, is not that value is specific to it, but that commodities do not exchange on the basis of their respective values, because commodities produced capitalistically are sold at their price of production.

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