More on Capital III

One very interesting thing to note about Capital III, is that it is the oldest material presented in Capital. Capital I was finished in the early 1870s, when Marx edited the serialised French edition, (the edition we read to day was a composite of the German and French editions that Engels published in German in  1894); the first and third parts of Capital II were worked on up to 1878, five years before Marx’s death. The manuscripts that make up Capital III are drawn from the first full draft of Capital in 1864-5. What does this mean?

One very interesting point is that we find Marx still deploying in very strong terms the language of a much earlier period. For example, on pages 178-9 Marx enters openly into a discussion that could have been excerpted straight from the 1844 Manuscripts. He says that the conditions of labour’s realisation take on an external character for the worker. He says that the means of production are deprived of their social character, that the value of the means of production are to a worker as the ‘expense of bits and bridal are to a horse’ (178), that the social power of labour appears as a power of capital.

This conception is so much the less surprising since it appears to accord with fact, and since the relationship of capital actually conceals the inner connection behind the utter indifference, isolation, and alienation in which they place the labourer vis-à-vis the means incorporating his labour.

First, the means of production that make up the constant capital represent only the money belonging to the capitalist (just as the body of the Roman debtor represented the money of his creditor, according to Linguet) and are related to him alone, while the labourer, who comes in contact with them only in the direct process of production, deals with them as use-values of production only as means of labour and materials of production. Increase or decrease of their value, therefore, has as little bearing on his relations to the capitalist as the circumstance whether he may be working with copper or iron. For that matter, the capitalist likes to view this point differently, as we shall later indicate, whenever the means of production gain in value and thereby reduce his rate of profit.

Second, in so far as these means of production in the capitalist production process are at the same time means of exploiting labour, the labourer is no more concerned with their relative dearness or cheapness than a horse is concerned with the dearness or cheapness of its bit and bridle.

Finally, we have earlier seen that, in fact, the labourer looks at the social nature of his labour, at its combination with the labour of others for a common purpose, as he would at an alien power; the condition of realising this combination is alien property, whose dissipation would be totally indifferent to him if he were not compelled to economise with it. (178-9)

Besides the philological interest of this, it flies in the face of those readers who say that the shift between the early and late Marx is the disappearance of his normative discourse in Capital. Of course Marx does struggles against his early Hegelian remainders. But to say that material of the style of 1844 does not appear in Capital is plain wrong. Perhaps it simply shows that these readers have not read the book.

The reading of Capital III, then, might need to keep in mind that the material is much older – less worked-up — than the first two books.


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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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