Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

A comment on law, tendency & crisis

In Chapter 14 Marx gives variations on the theme:

“The same factors that bring about a fall in the general rate of profit provoke counter effects that inhibit this fall, delay it and in part even paralyse it. These do not annul the law but they weaken its effect. […] The law operates therefore simply as a tendency, whose effect is decisive only under certain particular circumstances and over long periods” (346).

We can immediately note that there are not parallax lines determining the development of capitalism, but instead a single line that may either cause the profit rate to fall or to cause it to increase. This single line is labour productivity: how much of a given market can be held with the least investment in labour-power? The increase in labour productivity both leads to the decline n the rate of profit and the increase in the mass of profit. Given the interaction of different industries, labour productivity can increase the rate of profit by decreasing the value of constant capital, particularly, but also variable capital.

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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.

Oú est le sujet dans le livre III de Le capital?

Reading the first part of Capital III can be slow. You can of course skim read it to get the gist: capitalists believe that their profits derive from all parts of their capital investment, but they really only derive from the variable element of this investment.

But being faithful to Marx’s project in Capital means looking into to the investigations of variations in the different elements that constitute the profit rate and the rate of surplus value (p’ and s’), as well as the variations of the latter itself, as the explication of his central concept, value.

At the close of Capital II, we had the first detailed presentation of value as it is reproduced, and reproduces, the total social capital. We now move back and forward a few steps. Back to the question of mystification and the anatomy of profit taking; forward to a more concrete level of abstraction (the concrete always being a composite of abstractions for thought), we’re now looking at the direct concerns of capitalists, mystified or not, as they reproduce their capitals.

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Beginning politics from the middle

comments for second session, Capital 1 seminar, August 7 2010.

Much of the following is in the form of short notes, not worked into a clear argument…

So ultimately, this session and discussion is aiming to approach the question of how do we think and do politics in the present condition? We thought it best that this question be posed at the most simple level, so we approach it naively, working up our discussion from our most basic thoughts on what we think politics is. Once we ask ourselves this question, we can then think on what it is that a reading of Marx and Capital offers us on this problem.

My talk will be broken into three general sections:

A) Thinking politics as a question of method, which can be discussed in terms of idealism and materialism.

B) Thinking politics as a question of relation and of power.

C) Moving onto some basic possibilities of engaging the political problematic today, thought of as an ‘emergence’ or perhaps ‘amplification’ of the otherwise ‘invisible’.

So, where do we begin, to what will we return?

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Stuff happens behind our backs

Comments for first session Capital I seminar, 7 August 2010, Redfern Community Centre.


My aim today is to give some sense of what Marx’s materialism is like.

A phrase Marx repeatedly comes back to in Capital I is ‘behind the backs’.

There is stuff going on behind the backs of workers and capitalists. When they act, they act in a world that was created while their backs were turned. They didn’t see its laws being enacted, nor its landscape change.

Yet the world is only the mass of their practices. So they must have had some hand in creating it. This is the problem at the centre of Marx’s attempt to think human society in general, but also to think capitalism as an individual instance of human society.

To work out what Marx’s materialism is like, we need to work out what Marx means by ‘behind the backs’. Continue reading ‘Stuff happens behind our backs’

Some Discussion of Labour…

JC: Labour in general and labour within capitalism. Here we could talk about the way Marx distinguishes between the long view historical generalities and the short view of what applies in capitalism. So Labour in the long view is useful activity, in capitalism it is labour that is treated as some generic instance of labour. Chapter 7 Vol. I. the distinction between labour as an ‘eternal natural necessity’ and valorisation Human activity that capital counts as socially valid counts as labour within capitalism. Living Labour and dead labour (dead labour is value – I only just worked that out as I was typing this! is this correct? (yes, -Sam) A means of production isn’t physically labour, only given capitalism is it treated as containing past acts of labour, and these past acts that are congealed in the means of production – which is a mass of commodities – are value, isn’t that what value is? acts of labour objectified in things?)

SAM: Response (Sam): value is _also_ still the use-values.  Value is in antagonistic contradiction with the use-value embodied in it.  That’s why realisation of value in circulation is important, why we can’t dig a hole and fill it in again.  This contradiction finds its apotheosis in war production (Sector IV I believe in a 4 sector scheme) and Sector III (waste).  Both of these achieve a useless realisation on the market, their use-value is socially recognised wastefulness!  The new trend sweeping America: Wasting Food!  The meaning of the use-values and utility of having produced value is lost, forever!  But for normal commodities the value circulates as congealed acts of past labour, at each moment of circulation the validity of the labour can be contested.  Over night people no longer want Pogs.  Despite circulating as M…M’ as usuary or C…C as direct exchange, their validity can be continually contested. Continue reading ‘Some Discussion of Labour…’

General comments on Capital II

Two hypotheses:

  1. More and Faster. Whereas Capital I is about how capital finds ways of drawing more surplus-value from labour; Capital II is concerned with how capital finds ways of making this surplus-value move faster. The relevance of this to the speed of contemporary life – and there is now a social movement around slowing down life – might be a discussion point as we move through this volume. Continue reading ‘General comments on Capital II’