Capital II. Chapter 1: The Circuit of Money Capital (ongoing)

Marx sets out the different moments of the circuit of money capital in this first chapter: M-C … P … C’-M’. This sets up a template for his discussion of the other circuits through Part I. He emphasises that the use-value character of money’s capital-form and also the class relations that are presupposed by this. The two points, use-values and class relations, tend to presuppose one another. The style of the chapter repeats that of Chapter 3 of Capital I, with its use of organic metaphors and repeated references to the metamorphoses of capital-values.

Marx begins by noting where we are in his exposition. If the whole circuit of money capital is: M-C … P … C’-M’, then in Capital I all that was dealt with was P, where surplus-value is created and appropriated. In Capital II Marx will deal with M-C and C’-M’.

He makes one point about methodology:

In order to grasp these forms in their pure state, we must first of all abstract from all aspects that have nothing to do with the change and constitution of the forms as such (109).

What does Marx mean by this?

Over the first three sections Marx takes us through the following stages:

  1. M-(C = L + mp)
  2. M-(C = L + mp) … P
  3. M-(C = L + mp) … P … M’-C’

1. First Stage. M-(C = L + mp)

The first section develops the fragment: M-(C = L + mp). Money is exchanged for two sorts of commodities: labour power, L, and means of production, mp. Marx moves from an analytic discussion of the use-value components that the capital-value, M, is broken into. He then extends this with speculative comments about the history of this form: it required the dissolution of any organic link between labour-power and means of production, L and mp. He adds a contemporary example from Russia where the recently liberated serfs were still too self-sufficient to provide an adequate labour market.

2 Remarks:

a. Marx notes that confusion tends to surround Money, and its role as capital, in the moment M-C. Money is not the universal form of capital, but only the universal stand-in for value. It becomes capital on account of the use-value of the set of commodities that it buys:

What makes this particular act of commodity circulation a part of the whole process with a well-defined function in the independent circuit of an individual capital is not primarily the form of the act, but rather its material content, the specific use character of the commodities that change place with money (110)

And later:

…the money advanced functioned as money capital because it was converted through circulation into commodities with a specific use-value (122).

I think this is an extremely significant and misunderstood point.

Marx first thinks about this point in the Grundrisse as part of his ongoing battle with Ricardo’s theory of value. He wants to know how Ricardo can disregard the material quality of commodities and just treat them as values. Don’t the use-values of commodities play a role in the production of value? Use-value becomes a non-value condition on the creation of value.

This idea has been developed through Capital I. When he began looking at the commodity, the value of one commodity could only be expressed in the material body of a second commodity; value could not appear as itself, but had to haunt other bodies.

When he began discussing the labour process he noted that it involved two elements: labour and objects of labour (which he split into a number of sub-elements).

When he began looking at reproduction he emphasised that capital had to already have the objective conditions of labour in place and in sufficient quantity before putting labour-power to work; but it remained the case that in mutual isolation means of production and labour-power are unrealised and cannot constitute capital.

Here, he says:

“If labour-power is only a commodity in the hands of its seller, the wage-labourer, it only becomes capital in the hands of its buyer, the capitalist, to whom falls its temporary use. The means of production, for their part, become objective forms of productive capital proper, only from the moment labour-power, as the personal form of existence of productive capital, can be incorporated into them. The means of production are no more capital by nature than is human labour-power. They receive this specific social character only under certain particular conditions that have historically developed, just as it is only under such conditions that the precious metals are stamped with the character of money, or money with that of capital” (121).

Finally Marx says that money, in the moment M¾C, becomes capital because the two sorts of use-values that it buys compose the “natural form” (111, 112, 118) of productive capital, which is the topic of Section 2.

What can we say about Marx’s reference to the ‘natural form’ of production? Do use-values loose their social character when they enter production? What of labour’s expectation of a tanning?

b. Marx notes a second confusion. From the standpoint of labour, M-C is L-M: the purchase of money with labour-power. This returns us to the theme of Chapter 6 of Capital I: “The Sale and Purchase of Labour-Power”. But here Marx wants to say that capitalism isn’t capitalism because money is exchanged for labour-power. It is capitalism because there exists labour-power to be bought. Money cannot be converted into labour-power unless a market in labour-power already exists. For this market to exist, particular class relations already exist:

The class relation between capitalist and wage-labourer is thus already present, already presupposed, the moment the two confront each other in the act M-L (L-M from the side of the worker). This is a sale and purchase, a money relation, but a sale and purchase in which it is presupposed that the buyer is a capitalist and the seller a wage-labourer; and this relation does in fact exist, because the conditions for the realisation of labour-power, i.e. means of subsistence and means of production, are separated, as the property of another, from the possessor of labour power (115).

This reminds me of Louis Althusser’s insistence that definite subjectivities always already exist. We don’t have some subjectivity, some Mind, and then approach the world, we are already interpellated, our mind is already out there. Althusser illustrates this point with the figure of a cop calling out: “Hey you, worker/ criminal/ activist/ nobody/ etc.” The French verb for ‘to call’ is appeler (as in comment tu t’appel? / what is your name?), thus interpellation: the giving of names. More bluntly Louis Althusser said that the class struggle is simply primary, before everything else. In other words: we’ve already been given names and don’t get a choice about them. This point is pertinent for self-declared “revolutionaries”; it is not there choice to be revolutionaries: the effects of their actions on the collective situation over time will show the role they have played but didn’t choose.

The sale and purchase of labour power doesn’t create class relations but presupposes them. How can we think this?


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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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