Capital III. Chapter 15: Development of the Law’s Internal Contradictions

parts 1 and 2 (3 & 4 to follow)

Throughout this chapter we run up against the various manifestations of the limitations and barriers to the accumulation of capital and the ways in which, as capital overcomes the barriers it sets itself, the internal contradictions become more acute. The relations of production and distribution limit the production of wealth.

I General Considerations

The fall in the rate of profit and the acceleration of accumulation both express the increase in the productivity of social labour, and result from the formations of higher compositions of capital, a higher proportion of constant capital to variable capital, which as productivity grows manifests as a relative, or even absolute, reduction in the amount of variable to constant capital: a smaller (relatively or absolutely) amount of variable capital (amount of workers) is able to set in motion a larger total capital as productivity grows. This same process accelerates the concentration and centralization of capital, as smaller capitals are ‘dispossessed’.

The relationship between rate and mass is stated again here, as there occurs an acceleration of the accumulation in terms of its mass at the same time as the rate of accumulation falls.

The fall in this rate also slows the formation of new capitals, and “thus appears as a threat to the capitalist production process itself”, giving rise to overproduction, speculation and excess capital alongside surplus population (unemployment).

The critique of Ricardo in this section also demonstrates Marx’s broader view of the development of modes of production and the transitory condition of capitalism (not that this need be read teleologically). Ricardo’s (and other economists) view is of capitalism as an “absolute” system, and whilst they identify the emergence of a barrier to the development of productive forces, they try to locate it in nature, not production, hence the emphasis on rent. The emergence of barriers to the development of productive forces, for Marx, demonstrates the historical and transitory character of capitalism. Capitalism is not an absolute system for the production of wealth, but actually comes into conflict with the production of wealth as it develops.

At the bottom of page 351, Marx draws attention back to labour and the extraction of surplus-value. Given the necessary means of production or “sufficient accumulation of capital”, the barriers to the creation of surplus-value are found in the working population, if the level of exploitation is given; or in the level of exploitation if the working population is given. The motivating drive and purpose of capitalism – the production of curplus-value – runs up against these barriers of how much labour and what level of exploitation.

Capitalism is not about producing for consumption, or for capitalist enjoyment, but about the production of surplus-value and accumulation of capital. Yet the movements through which this process must pass in order to be actualized, require the existence of given conditions. As we know, the exploitation of labour or the extraction of surplus-value, does not guarantee the realization of this surplus-value.

“The conditions for immediate exploitation and for the realization of that exploitation are not identical. Not only are they separate in time and space, they are also separate in theory. The former is restricted only by the society’s productive forces, the latter by the proportionality between the different branches of production and by the society’s power of consumption. And this is determined neither by the absolute power of production nor by the absolute power of consumption but rather by the power of consumption within a given framework of antagonistic conditions of distribution”. p352

“It is further restricted by the drive for accumulation, the drive to expand capital and produce surplus-value on a larger scale.” p353

Here we see the conditions of the contradiction sharpening, which leads to the drive of the expansion of the market:

“The market, therefore, must be continually extended, so that its relationships and the conditions governing them assume ever more the form of a natural law independent of the producers and become evermore uncontrollable. The internal contradiction seeks resolution by extending the external field of production. But the more productivity develops, the more it comes into conflict with the narrow basis on which the relations of consumption rest.” p353

At the bottom of p353 a return to rate and mass… The mass of capital a worker can set in motion, and the value of this capital which the worker preserves and makes reappear in the commodity produced is completely different to the value that the worker adds to the commodity.

If from a mass of capital of 1000, a value of 100 is added by the worker, the value reproduced is 1100 and the rate of profit is 10%.

If from a mass of capital of 100, a value of 20 is added by the worker, the value reproduced is 120 and the rate of profit is 20%.

Although the rate of profit is higher in the second case, the speed of accumulation is higher in the first even though its rate of profit is lower, as the mass of surplus produced is greater. There is more to accumulate from 100 than 20.

An Aside: I think, although it is not really discussed explicitly here, that this is potentially a key way through which to think the expansion of capitalism, which Marx states on page 353, but also in thinking what some other authors discuss in terms of real subsumption, enclosure or ongoing primitive accumulation. The internal contradictions, emergence of barriers to the development of productive forces, and the overcoming and repetition of this process, can perhaps be read both extensively and intensively. Extensively as it pushes capital towards the world market, and intensively in so far as more and more dimensions of the organization of life are articulated directly through exchange. In a sense the frontier expands at the same time as a layering of commodified relations occurs in areas already subsumed, so that real subsumption comes to mean even more than perhaps what Marx states elsewhere throughout Capital, and in the section “Immediate Results…”.

II The Conflict Between the Extension of Production and Valorisation

Marx notes two ways in which the social productivity of labour is reflected: first, size of productive forces already produced, scale of conditions of production in both value and mass, and in absolute magnitude of already accumulated productive capital; second, the relative low proportion out of the total capital that is laid out on wages (variable capital), the relatively smaller amount of living-labour required to set a given capital in motion, to reproduce and valorize it.

In terms of labour-power applied: with the development of productivity there are two effects. There is an increase in surplus labour, which is a shortening of necessary labour-time, a reduction in the time necessary for reproduction of labour-power. (development of productivity in dept II?)

Secondly, decline in the amount of workers required to set a given capital in motion.

These two movement condition each other, and are both expressions of the same law, but effect the rate of profit in opposite directions.

The total mass of profit = total mass of surplus value. Rate of profit is surplus-value over the total capital advanced. But total surplus-value is determined by its rate and by the mass of labour applied at this rate.

Given the above two effects in terms of labour-power applied, the rate of surplus-value is rising (as a result of the shortening of necessary labour time), whilst the number of workers is falling (relatively or absolutely).

The development of productivity has effect of reduction in necessary labour time, which means rising rate of surplus value; reduction in total quantity of labour applied, which reduces the number by which the rate of surplus-value has to be multiplied to arrive at its mass.

As development of productivity grows, the rate of profit falls while the mass of profit rises together with increasing mass of capital applied.

If the profit rate is given, then the amount by which capital grows depends on its existing magnitude. But if the magnitude is given then its rate of growth depends on the profit rate. A rise in productivity can increase magnitude of capital only if it increases that part of profit that is capitalized, by raising rate of profit. In terms of labour productivity, this can occur through increasing relative surplus-value, or a reduction in the value of constant capital. That is, cheapens commodities that go to reproduction of labour-power or the elements of constant capital.

Indirectly the development of the productivity of labour contributes to increase in value of existing capital, through increasing the mass and diversity of use-values in which the same exchange value is represented.

The two contradictory aspects of accumulation, simultaneously in opposition to each other:

As impulse towards a genuine increase in the working population, with agencies that create a relative surplus population.

With the fall in the rate of profit, the mass of capital grows, this is associated with a devaluation of existing capital, which puts a stop to this fall and accelerates accumulation of capital value.

With the development of productivity, a generation of a higher composition of capital, a relative decline in the variable portion of capital against the constant.

“The true barrier to capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-valorisation appear as the starting and finishing point, as the motive and purpose of production; production is production only for capital, and not the reverse…”

“the means – unrestricted development of the forces of social production – comes into persistent conflict with the restricted end, the valorization of the existing capital.”


1 Response to “Capital III. Chapter 15: Development of the Law’s Internal Contradictions”

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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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