Last updated on January 5, 2021
This post in the Anticapitalist Chat supports a group reading of Karl Marx’s Capital Vol 1. #GoodMorningMarx #WeeklyMarx
Reproduction and accumulation
Capital is “self-valorising value”. But for capital to continue to generate new value and create surplus-value, this surplus-value must itself by reinvested back into production – that is, surplus-value must be reconverted into capital. In other words, the capitalist must reinvest the profits of production back into new means of production. As Marx explains, this “employment of surplus-value as capital, or its reconversion into capital, is called accumulation of capital.” (p725)
It is only in this way that new values can be generated. As explained previously, and as re-emphasised by Marx here, through the act of exchange alone, no new value be created. Exchange does not create value, but merely realises it. “All the transactions in the market can accomplish is the interchange of the individual components of this annual product, their transfer from one hand to another. They cannot increase the total annual production, nor can they alter the nature of the objects produced.” (p726)
By converting surplus-value into new capital – that is, by reinvesting profits into new means of production – capitalism moves from a case of merely reproducing itself, to expanding and growing. Investment for the sake of profit, then, is the motor force behind growth under capitalism.
Such a fact is often glossed over by the reformist bourgeois politicians who talk about “growth” as though it were a tap that could be turned on-and-off at will. In reality, growth within the confines of private ownership will always be limited by the needs of capital: to make and realise a profit. Where profits cannot be made, investment will stop; and when investment stops, growth ceases. At such points, the driving force of profit turns into its opposite and becomes an enormous barrier to development; the economy, and society with it, is plunged into crisis, and millions suddenly find themselves surplus to the requirements of capital, thrown onto the scrapheap of unemployment.
As long as investment continues and the precariously balanced spinning plates of capitalism continue to revolve, however, a virtuous circle develops, with capital begetting yet more capital and accumulation paving the way to further accumulation. All that is required is the “original sin” of primitive accumulation – that is, the initial accidental differences that give some an economic advantage over others.
“The ownership of past unpaid labour is thenceforth the sole condition for the appropriation of living unpaid labour on a constantly increasing scale. The more the capitalist has accumulated, the more is he able to accumulate.” (p729)
The accumulation of wealth by the capitalists, therefore, is not the result of cheating, corruption, or force, but arises precisely due to the dynamics, laws, and logic of capitalism itself. As Marx comments, “the laws of appropriation or of private property…become changed into their direct opposite through their own internal and inexorable dialectic.” (p729) What begins as a fair exchange between the capitalist and the worker, “the exchange of equivalents” in which the capitalist buys the labour-power of the worker in return for a wage, now turns into a means by which the capitalist clearly appropriates a surplus – that is, obtains more than he/she has paid for.
Harry Cleaver’s Study Guide remains important
As Marx pointed out in a two-page introduction to this section of Capital, pp. 709-710, his analysis in this and the subsequent two chapters is based on a number of simplifying assumptions. The most important one in this chapter, and the one that differentiates this chapter and its discussion of simple reproduction from the discussion of expanded reproduction in the next two chapters, is that capitalists consume all of the value that their operations generate over and above that which is necessary to replace the used up means of production, e.g., raw materials, tools, and to replace their living workers. In other words this chapter deals with how production is also reproduction of all of the elements of the capitalist organization of production in abstraction from investment that generates growth, i.e., accumulation.
This said, most of what Marx writes in this chapter should already be familiar from the study of preceding ones, especially chapter 6 that deals explicitly with the reproduction of labor power, and indeed he often refers back to previous discussions. There are, however, a couple of points, one minor and another major, that are worthy of examination.
As discussed in my commentary on chapter 7 on the labor process, there has been a debate as to whether there was a fundamental change in Marx's analysis of capitalism from his discussion of alienation in the 1844 Manuscripts to the theory laid out in Capital. I have argued that there was no fundamental change and what we have in Capital includes an essentially a detailed elaboration of his earlier discussion of four forms of alienation, e.g., of how capital controls workers on the job thus alienating them from their labor, of how capital controls their product and uses it against them, of how capital pits workers against each other alienating them from each other and of how capital, by imposing its will, alienates them from their very species-being.
For the most part, the substantiation of this argument involves showing how the various moments of Marx's analysis in Capital are elaborations of these themes despite the absence of any explicit use of the term “alienation.” In this chapter, however, he does use the term and his use deserves some attention.
On page 716 we find the following passage:
“Since, before he enters the process, his own labour has already been alienated [enfremdet] from him, appropriated by the capitalist, and incorporated with capital, it now, in the course of the process, constantly objectifies itself so that it becomes a product alien to him [fremder Produkt].”
Here we find two uses of the term “alienation.”
The first use clearly refers simply to the sale of labor power; sold, the labor power and its use value now belongs to the capitalist “before” production begins. This is a fairly vernacular use of the term “alienation”, just meaning to go away from or be taken away from. Even though what is being described is integral to the creation of alienation, and indeed if the worker's labor becomes “incorporated with capital” then all forms of alienation obtain, the use of the term here does not seem to refer to any of the four forms that Marx discussed in the 1844 Manuscripts.
The second use, however, refers to what happens “in the course of the [labor] process”, i.e., during production: the capitalist utilization of the use value of the worker's labor power results in a product that belongs to the capitalist. This is the alienation of the product, the second form of alienation mentioned above. When Marx goes on to point out how that product is converted into “capital, i.e., into value that sucks up the the worker's value-creating power” and thereby becomes “an alien power that dominates and exploits him,” we have, explicitly, all the elements of the second form of alienation discussed in the Manuscripts.
These conditions can be represented in the following manner:
Department I must produce C1 + C2 + C1new + C2new
Department II must produce V1 + V2 + V1new + V2new.
If, and only if, these conditions are met can expanded reproduction take place, i.e., can accumulation occur from period to period.
Growth and accumulation are not identical and the nature of surplus needs to be accounted for.
Adam Smith is wrong to pretend that accumulation is “nothing more than the consumption of the surplus product by productive workers.” “In actual fact,” Marx writes, “the surplus-value, like the value originally advanced, divides up into constant and variable capital, into means of production and labor-power . . . labor-power is itself consumed by the capitalist.” While wages buy the means of subsistence “which are consumed, not by 'productive labor', but by the 'productive worker.'”
In the language and symbolism of Marx's reproduction schemes, mentioned in my commentary on Chapter 23, in order for the present organization of capitalist society to reproduce itself on an expanded scale, certain conditions must be met.
First, Department I must produce enough of the means of production to replace those used up in its own activities plus enough of the means of production to replace those used up in the activities of Department II plus enough new means of production to be purchased by the surplus-value realized and invested in each department.
Second, Department II must produce enough of the means of subsistence to sustain/reproduce the labor-power employed in its own activities, plus enough means of subsistence to sustain/reproduce the labor-power employed in Department I, plus enough new means of subsistence to sustain/reproduce the new workers hired with the surplus-value realized and invested in each department.
- Surplus-value can be either consumed by the capitalist (as “revenue” spent on consumption goods – call the surplus-value diverted to consumption Sc) or invested (as “capital” spent on means of production and the hiring of laborers – call this part Si).
Capitalists can do both: consume some of their surplus-value and invest some. Total S = Si + Sc.
In the short run, this is a zero-sum game: “With a given mass of surplus-value, then, the larger the one part, the smaller the other.” ↑Si ⇒ ↓Sc.
As capital “personified”, “his motivating force [of the individual capitalist] is not the acquisition and enjoyment of use-values, but the acquisition and augmentation of exchange-values.” Any diversion of surplus-value into personal consumption “counts as a robbery committed against the accumulation of his capital.”
Ultimately it is to Marx to account for not only the whole of productive labor but the informal economy, the reserve army of labor.
Chapter 25: The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation
Marx’s opening remarks on the “composition of capital” harken back to the analysis in Chapter 15 on relative surplus value. There we saw how efforts to offset reductions in the working day by raising productivity involved capitalists replacing troublesome workers with compliant machinery. He suggests that the introduction of more machinery per worker can be formulated as a rise in the technical composition of capital, something we can represent symbolically by MP/LP, the material configuration of means of production and labor-power.(1)
Looked at from the point of view of of value invested, increased expenditure on machinery raises the value composition of capital, or c/v, a ratio of the value invested in constant capital, c, to that invested in variable capital, v. However, because the value composition can change independently of any change in the technical composition,(2)
Marx calls the value composition—when changes are only due to changes in the technical composition—the organic composition of capital. To differentiate, we can represent the organic composition of capital as co/vo. So, c/v can change, even if co/vo does not; but any change in co/vo is also a change in c/v. Therefore, whenever he refers to changes in the organic composition he is talking about a change in the technical composition, but in value terms. Eventually—especially in Volume III of Capital—we find that Marx’s analysis of some tendencies to crisis are formulated in terms of the organic composition of capital.(3)
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