Part 7: Chap 24: Parts 3,4 & 5

Part 3: Division of surplus-value into capital revenue. The abstinence theory.

This part of the chapter explores capital’s voracious need to expand, to reproduce itself on an ever-increasing scale. Marx passes from references to Judeo-Christian writing on usury, to the works of key classical economists: Ricardo, Malthus and Senior, focusing on the roles they saw capitalists playing in determining the function of surplus-value (either in capital or revenue).

“One part of the surplus value is consumed by the capitalist as revenue, the other part is employed as capital, i.e. it is accumulated” (738). In this part, Marx establishes these two aspects as part of the same process.

Progressive accumulation owes to the existence of external and coercive laws, by which a class of actors are propelled. Marx develops the active concept of the capitalist class. “What appears in the miser as the mania of an individual is in the capitalist the effect of a social mechanism in which he is merely a cog (739)”. The desire for luxuries arises from “capital’s expenses of representation” (741).

Furthermore, Marx refers to Martin Luther: “the love of power is an element in the desire to get rich” (footnote 22). The extended quote from Martin Luther is a fascinating discussion regarding the practice of usury, and shortly following it Marx refers to speculative markets and credit systems… it feels as if he were writing today. (See Mitropolous and Cooper’s article:

Marx goes on to note the expansive nature of capitalism, that it is constantly necessary for the capitalist to direct capital to enhancing productive capacity. “Accumulation is the conquest of a world of social wealth” (739)

The final section of this part reflects on debates between the Ricardians and Malthusians. Malthus thought that the capitalists should dedicate themselves to accumulating surplus value and the clergy and aristocracy (primitive institutions of the state) should spend what part was not re-directed back into the processes of production (743).

From Malthus, Marx picks another entertaining fight with Senior and his use of the word abstinence, in place of capital. To draw a circle back to the title of this section, I’d like to take up discussion about this part from this point…

Part 4: The circumstances which, independently of the proportional division of surplus-value into capital and revenue, determine the extent of accumulation, namely, the degree of exploitation of labour power, the productivity of labour, the growing difference in amount between capital employed and capital consumed, and the magnitude of the capital advanced.

(What a title!)

Extending the theory of capitalization, Marx focuses on the ways labour-power can be employed without additional investment in constant capital. “All the circumstances that determine the mass of surplus-value operate to determine the magnitude of accumulation” (727).

First is the tendency to push wages as low as possible, where zero wages is an impossible target of the capitalist. This, of course, is impossible because there would be no incentive for workers to sell their labour without some wages.

Second is the ability to exploit labour-power without additional investment of constant capital in the production process, ie. expenditure on variable capital. The case of industries reliant on raw materials is most transparent, as with the same machines used at all hours, ‘the mass and value of the product will rise in direct proportion to the labour expended’ (752). For agriculture, the amount of labour-power exploited in the activity of improving the quality of a finite area of land will yield greater crops. The result: “By incorporating with itself the two primary creators of wealth, labour-power and land, capital acquires a power of expansion that permits it to augment the elements of its accumulation beyond the limits apparently fixed by its own magnitude, or by the value and the mass of the means of production which have already been produced, and in which it has being” (752).

On the productvity of social labour (753): The mass of surplus product produced increases even if the rate of surplus value stagnates. Even if the capitalists invest no more in constant capital and wages remain constant, they still accumulate surplus at an increasing rate. Even in the case where the output of capital increases and the capitalists’ revenue decreases, the price of commodities will have fallen so as to continue to make them available for the capitalists to consume.

Real wages never rise in proportion to LP’s productivity.

With innovation capital’s sphere of investment is extended, alongside its growth (754). Old technologies are reused without the outlay of more capital. “It is the natural property of living labour to keep old value in existence while it creates new.”

A significant point that Marx makes is in reference to the creative capacities of the working class exploited by the capitalist, whereby through increased pressure workers invent innovative ways of using machinery and science to perform our work (754). This activity is mystified, “all powers of labour project themselves as powers of capital, just as all the value-forms of the commodity do as forms of money” (756).

Part 5: The so-called labour fund

Variable capital is not given or fixed, nor is the magnitude of labour-power to be expended in the production process.


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Reading Capital in Sydney records reading notes on Marx's Capital I, II and III, and other bits and pieces.

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