July 27, 2008

For Max

I could easily post small replies to each of Max's latest posts, but might as well just write another one. I just read through the latest set of his, and each one resonated with me and gave rise to new questions in my mind.

Let's keep it simple and keep it in list format:

Time and Humanism

Regarding the EP Thompson reference, which I have yet to fully read, you're right on that there is a humanism lurking behind the idea that wages and labor-time were an interruption in the otherwise leisurely, pre-capitalist lifeworld of the worker. However, even those writers who do not seek recourse in a mythical, non-alienated past must still make comparisons between the time of capitalism and the time of pre-capitalism. You cite Postone, but Postone famously talks about pre-clock time Europe and China. And Marx himself is always making implicit references to the world before capitalism. What is the alternative?

Perhaps this leaks out into larger questions that continue to pop up periodically in the text and in our posts. What to do about humanism? There are moments where Marx suggests an originary human subject upon which to base his critique, but if we are interested in interpreting Marx in a non-humanistic way, what other foundation is there for this critique? Simply the fair distribution of value to the exploited workers? Or is this even about the working class anymore?


I have a hard time understanding the pairs and pairs of categories Max outlines in Chapter 7 and 8. Perhaps this is just the need for a little clarity. As I am reading it, the dialectic roughly falls along these lines

Use-value Exchange-value
Labor Valorization
Variable Capital Constant Capital
Subjective Objective

Does this look right? And if so, where does this take us? What does it do for our understanding of this process so far? I generally this observation is very, very smart, and I'm impressed by it, but then my second instinct is to ask what is the importance of this reading, which feels so important?

If nothing else it aligns everything back to Chapter one, where use-value seemed to stand in for the subjective, pre-capitalist, pre-objective, pre-exchange historical forms.

Also, I'm not sure why constant capital is treated as part of objective/valorization/exchange-value, however, because if it were to be split along the lines of production and consumption, it would fall on the side of production, no?

July 23, 2008

Chapter Nine: Labour (Living and Dead) and Time

This chapter seems straightforward in its logical exposition of what Marx has already distinguished as capital’s constitutive components – constant capital (dead-labor, or means of production) and variable capital (socially-necessary labour and surplus labor[time]).

The distinction Marx made between the consumption of dead-labor’s use-value and the valorization of capital’s investment by means of living-labour’s productive capacity - not only it’s necessary ability to bring ‘to life’ dead-labor but also the unpaid component of labour-time (surplus-value) - is extended now into the rate of surplus-value, which is largely understood through time (labour-time, and Marx’s critique of Senior’s “last-hour”). In this regard, it might be interesting to bring in E.P. Thompson’s observations on time and work-discipline…which also can lead into Marx’s discussion of the ‘work-day.’

For Thompson, the problem is posed as: “how far, and in what ways, did [the] shift in time-sense [increasingly determined by industrial production] affect labour discipline, and how far did it influence the inward apprehension of time of working people. (57)”

He begins, in the familiar humanist move, with laying out what the relationship between time-sense and production might have been before capitalism:

“a community in which task-orientation is common appears to show least demarcation between ‘work’ and ‘life’. Social intercourse and labour are intermingled – the working-day lengthens or contracts according to the task – and there is no great sense of conflict between labour and ‘passing the time of day.... to men accustomed to labour timed by the clock, this attitude to labour appears to be wasteful and lacking in urgency. (60)”

This echoes the common rhetorical device of positing an organic life-world before the violence of capitalism’s alienation and abstraction (think Lukacs as well).

Once the distinction between those who labor and those who manage/put others to work (i.e. industrial production) appears then you have a radical change (differentiation) in the experience of time:

“As soon as actual hands are employed the shift from task-orientation to timed labour is marked.” (61) and “those who are employed experience a distinction between their employer’s time and their ‘own’ time. And the employer must use the time of his labour, and see it is not wasted….(61)”

Temporality is experienced (and determines social classes) differently; something akin to a sociology of temporality. Anyhoo, linking this then to the section from Marx that Andy cited earlier:

[Marx] “the greater part of the eighteenth century, up to the epoch of large-scale industry, capital in England had not succeeded in gaining control of the worker's whole week by paying the weekly value of his labour-power ... the fact that they could live for a whole week on the wage of four days did not appear to the workers to be a sufficient reason for working for the capitalist for the other two days (Capital, p. 385).”

Thompson’s analysis of 19th Century England reiterates Marx’s observation:

“Enclosure and the growing labour-surplus at the end of the eighteenth century tightened the screw for those who were in regular employment; they were faced with the alternative of partial employment and the poor law, or submission to a more exacting labour discipline. It is a question, not of new techniques, but of a greater sense of time-thrift among the improving capitalist employers. (78)”

Class exploitation is refracted through the social-differentiation and experience of time, although this still seems to be a class-driven process (rather than abstract labour time as the subject – a la Postone). But what is most interesting is that this is not just an explanatory narrative of time, discipline and social class, but also of the socio-political imaginations that were cofigured along with social-time/work-discipline:

“The first generation of factory workers were taught by their masters the importance of time; the second generation formed their short-time committees in the ten-hour movement; the third generation struck for overtime or time-and-a-half. (86)”

Thus labour-politics is largely understood as a battle for TIME. This, I think, can tie into the section from Marx that Andy cited and also what will appear in the next chapter on the workday…….

To finish this out, Thompson ends with these following thoughts:

“If we maintain a Puritan time-valuation, a commodity-valuation, then it is a question of how this time is put to use, or how it is exploited by the leisure industries. But if the purposive notation of time-use becomes less compulsive, then men might have to re-learn some of the arts of living lost in the industrial revolution: how to fill the interstices of their days with enriched, more leisurely, personal and social relations; how to break down once more the barriers between work and life. (95)”

“If men are to meet both the demands of a highly-synchronized automated industry, and of greatly enlarged areas of ‘free time’, they must somehow combine in a new synthesis elements of the old and of the new, finding an imagery based neither upon the seasons nor upon the market but upon human occasions. (96)”

Here is the citation if anyone wants to download from Jstor:
E. P. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism” in Past and Present, No. 38 (Dec., 1967)

July 22, 2008

Chapters Seven and Eight (condensed)

Below are two themes that stuck out for me (while listening to Sun Ra and drinking beer - a deadly triad of confusion) – the first theme opens into questions related to subjectivity, ideology and practice that, at some point, we should raise; but the latter theme I found really helped to tie all the chapters (thus far) together.

First: ideal: material and/or subjectivity
In Chapter Seven we get textual hints that later Marxists will expand into theories of subjectivity and/or Marx’s epistemology, such as the following quote:

“But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax. At the end of every labour process, a result emerges which had already been conceived by the worker at the beginning, hence already existed ideally. (284)”

This can open into a more sociological discussion of labour (Braverman and others who have looked to the distinction of mental and manual labour), a philosophical discussion of the material:ideal dialectic in Marx’s epistemology (Sohn-Rethel, Althusser, Zizek) or of Marx’s conceptualization of ‘subjectivity’ and the ‘subject’ itself (Althusser, Balibar, et al). But this does seem to posit some form of human anthropology and the role of “purposive will” as the subjective source of its labour-process (back to Andy’s discussion of Marx’s humanism). One would assume that this ontological “will” is alienated from labour by capital in the modern, and although Marx does not make that argument here, it seems to be necessary to the logic of the argument thus far.

Second: A further extension of Marx’s analytical logic introduced earlier
More interestingly, is that we can see in this chapter (and those directly connected to seven) that the logics that were first introduced in Marx’s analysis of the commodity-form are here driving the analysis of production, labour, and capital. In that initial chapter we saw that the commodity-form was the dialectic of use-value and exchange-value, and that they both constituted the conditions for the others existence (exchange value cannot be manifested unless the commodity has a desired use-value, and the consumption of use-value is only possible by locating that use in exchange). Marx links the logic of the labour process back to this original dialectic:

“It must be borne in mind that we are now dealing with the production of commodities, and that up to this point we have considered only one aspect of the process. Just as the commodity itself is a unity formed of use-value and value, so the process of production must be a unity, composed of the labour process and the process of creating value [Wertbildungsprozess]. (293)” (Reiterated at the end of the chapter [p. 304] as well)

In the next chapter (Ch. 8), this then gets extended into the process of self-valorization (capital) – when Marx makes the distinction between constant and variable capital. This is where we can tie all these levels of analysis together:

“The same elements of capital which, from the point of view of the labour process, can be distinguished respectively as the objective and subjective factors, as means of production and labour-power, can be distinguished, from the point of view of the valorization process, as constant and variable capital. (317)”

In other words, Marx is saying that capital is composed of two levels – labor and valorization (on one level corresponding to use-value and value) which, themselves, can be understood as the homologous dialectic of objective (means of production-dead labor)/subjective (living labour-valorization) and constant/variable capital respectively. Thus we have the same dialectical logic driving Marx's analysis but expressing itself differently depending on what level is being explored. It’s almost as if a huge spiraling dialectic is fanning out of the commodity-form, determining these wider and wider processes; or, reversely, that a dialectical process of capital's self-valorizing logic (both appearance and essence) - one that determines the entire historical formation - is contained with the dialectic that also constitutes the commodity-form.

Chapters 4 through 6 (slowly catching up)

Andy has already posted an extensive analysis/summary of these chapters, which I understand to be:

Chapter Four:
Question posed – what is the difference between the simple (and complex) exchange of commodities and the unique logic/process of capital?
Answer – C-M-C’s reflux is back to a commodity that is then consumed (i.e., use-value) outside of circulation while M-C-M’s reflux is back to its originary form, yet with an increase in value that is then re-circulated. In other words, the introduction of ‘surplus value’ and the set up for the next chapter’s problematic.

Chapter Five:
Question posed: how is it that value appears to valorize itself in exchange?
Answer: “The value of a commodity is expressed in its price before it enters into circulation, and it is therefore a pre-condition of circulation, not its result” (260) – and thus – “something must take place in the background which is not visible in the circulation itself. (268)” – Enter the production process and the categories of "labour" (socially-necessary labour/time) and surplus value.

Chapter Six:
Question posed: How is value valorized in production, which is then expressed in (and thus the precondition for) exchange?
Answer: the gap between payment for labour-power (with subsistence as the floor) and the amount of value that accrues in the final commodity – the differential being ‘surplus value’ and thus the ‘source’ of value valorized.

Within these chapters, however, there are interesting aspects that link up to themes discussed in earlier postings - for instance:

1) Marx continually argues that this is a self-perpetuating system of valuation: although the class-struggle is a systemic effect (and yet, also, the condition of possibility for the development and perpetuation of valorization), this is not a process driven by the subjective decisions of a particular class (i.e. the bourgeoisie). On p. 254 he uses the German Träger to describe that the capitalist is the “‘conscious bearer’ of this movement” – and that although a component of this is a “subjective purpose” it is not driven by some anthropological disposition of homo economicus, but that the system of valuation is the subject (said in so many words on the next page where Marx writes: “value here is the subject”; p. 255). Thus at the level of appearance (the social), “value suddenly presents itself as a self-moving substance which passes through a process of its own, and for which commodities and money are both mere forms” and later value “therefore now becomes value in process, money in process, and, as such, capital. (256)”

2) There are multiple temporalities – many of which are non-linear and often times anticipatory (or reversed?) – that operate at different levels of capital, linking up to logics that we have already seen in his analysis of Marx’s commodity form. Here are just a few examples:

- Historical conditions – although the mediation between man and nature is (transhistorically expressed) in labour, “labour”, as a category within capitalism’s logic, is not natural derived. A certain historical development is necessary – namely that capital and labor need to meet in the market: there needs to be a pool of ‘labor’ – people ‘free’ to sell their labor as a commodity and ‘free’ from any other means of subsistence except selling their labor-power, and those with means of production that need to be set in motion (p. 273). In this regard, it might be interesting to test Althusser’s distinction posted before – are the historical conditions (in his word, the historical mechanism) for capitalism and its internal temporalities of capital as a constituted social formation, analytically separable (in Althusser’s term – in their “disjointed unity”)? We might want to return to this question when we get to the question of primitive accumulation and its perpetuation as capital’s reproduction.

- At the level of general process: C-M-C vs. M-C-M – whereby M-C-M forms an endless chain of valorization cycles; C-M-C always ends in the consumption of use-value (even with purchase and expenditure of labour-power by dead-labor [aka capital]), but with M-C-M – “the movement of capital is therefore limitless. (253)”

- When introducing the production process, Marx writes “the value of a commodity is expressed in its price before it enters into circulation, and it is therefore a pre-condition of circulation, not its result. (260)” What appears to be the valorization of a commodity in exchange is merely the expression of what was already anticipated in production. Similar to the dialectic of use-value and exchange-value that comprises the commodity-form, “Capital cannot therefore arise from circulation, and it is equally impossible for it to arise apart from circulation. It must have its origin both in circulation and not in circulation. (268)” For the philosophers out there, what is the logic of this argument?

- While it is necessary for capital to consider the time necessary for sale and the time necessary for production, this latter anticipation contains labour-time which is ‘sold’ to capital on credit – labour’s labour-power (use-value) is expended during the work-week and yet is only paid by contract at the end of the week.

That's it for now….onto Chapter Seven

Falling behind

It's been a bit crazy here, but I'll catch up within a few weeks. In the meantime, check out the following. It is just about at the same stage as the website:

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History of Neoliberalism.

July 16, 2008

History and history

This will not be a post about a specific chapter or even about Capital itself. Instead I want to contribute a few passages from Althusser's Reading Capital that might help or at least provoke the ongoing discussion about history in Marx that Max has mentioned in his posts.

Is Marx an empiricist, how can he access history, how does see the relationship between the present and past, how does he envision the passage of time and movements through it?

I recently finished the first of Althusser's essays, entitled "From Capital to Marx's Philosophy." Although I have heard/read that Althusser will say more about this in other essays - he seems very concerned with history in his philosophy - I can only provide a few passages from this latest one. The following do not seem unrelated to what Max has written about:

And while we are here, let us be clear: Marxism cannot for one moment discover or rediscover itself along the path of this empiricism, whether it claims to be materialist or sublimates itself in an idealism of the ante-predicative, of the 'original ground' or of 'praxis' -- in this idealism and in the concepts it has manufactured to play the star roles in its theatre. The concepts of origin, 'original ground', genesis and mediation should be regarded as suspect a priori : not only because they always more or less induce the ideology which has produced them, but because, produced solely for the use of this ideology, they are its nomads, always more or less carrying it with them. It is no accident that Sartre, and all those with none of his ability who feel a need to fill in the emptiness between 'abstract ' categories and the 'concrete ', abuse the terms origin, genesis and mediations so much. The function of the concept of origin, as in original sin, is to summarize in one word what has not to be thought in order to be able to think what one wants to think. The concept of genesis is charged with taking charge of, and masking, a production or mutation whose recognition would threaten the vital continuity of the empiricist schema of history. The concept of mediation is invested with one last role: the magical provision of post-stations in the empty space between theoretical principles and the 'concrete', as bricklayers make a chain to pass bricks. In every case, the functions are those of masks and theoretical impostures -- functions which may witness both to a real embarrassment and a real good will, and to the desire not to lose theoretical control over events, but even in the best of cases, these functions are more or less dangerous theoretical fictions. Applied to our question, these concepts ensure us a cheap solution on every occasion: they make a chain between an original knowledge effect and current knowledge effects -- giving us the mere posing, or rather non-posing of the problem as its solution. (63)

When Marx studied modern bourgeois society, he adopted a paradoxical attitude. He first conceived that existing society as a historical result, i.e., as a result produced by a history. Naturally, this seems to commit us to a Hegelian conception in which the result is conceived as a result inseparable from its genesis, to the point where it is necessary to conceive it as 'the result of its becoming'. In fact, at the same time Marx takes a quite different direction! 'It is not a matter of the connexion established historically between the economic relations in the succession of different forms of society. Still less of their order of succession "in the Idea " (Proudhon ) (a nebulous conception of historical movement ). But of their articulated combination (Gliederung) within modern bourgeois society ' (Grundrisse, p. 28). The same idea was already rigorously expressed in The Poverty of Philosophy : 'How, indeed, could the single logical formula of movement, of sequence, of time, explain the body of society, in which all relations coexist simultaneously (gleichzeitig) and support one another ' (The Poverty of Philosophy, New York, 1963, pp. 110-11). The object of Marx's study is therefore contemporary bourgeois society, which is thought as a historical result : but the understanding of this society, far from being obtained from the theory of the genesis of this result, is, on the contrary, obtained exclusively from the theory of the 'body ', i.e., of the contemporary structure of society, without its genesis intervening in any way whatsoever. This attitude may be paradoxical, but Marx insists on it in categorical terms as the absolute condition of possibility of his theory of history; it reveals the existence of two problems, distinct in their disjoint unity. There is a theoretical problem which must be posed and resolved in order to explain the mechanism by which history has produced as its result the contemporary capitalist mode of production. But at the same time there is another absolutely distinct problem which must be posed and resolved, in order to understand that this result is indeed a social mode of production, that this result is precisely a form of social existence and not just any form of existence: this second problem is the object of the theory in Capital -- and not for one moment is it ever confused with the first problem. (64 to 65)
Eat up.

July 15, 2008

Damn you, money and exchange! (aka, Ch. 2 and 3)

Chapter Two and Three (“Process of Exchange” and “Money, or the Circulation of Commodities”)

It’s easy to see how so many have assumed that, both historically and logically, Marx’s capitalism=market exchange, since these first few chapters remain within the process of circulation/exchange. Yet Marx, operating within a classical mode of analysis, is trying to "penetrate appearances” for the actual ‘essence’, or ‘substance,’ of value and the process wherein it ‘appears’ that value is adding value to itself. As with Chapter One, his analysis is thus posing two answers at two different levels of analysis simultaneously: how is it that, at the level of the social, it appears that money begets more money within exchange (social actuality reproduced through ideology or epistemological forms), and, at the same time, how exchange is merely expressing a value that is/was already presupposed in production itself – and thus bringing us back to production (getting us to Chapter Four where surplus-value is finally introduced).

More interestingly (and problematic) is what Andy also pointed to in his recap – these momentary digressions where Marx attempts to point to history as the ‘stage’ in which various necessary developments take place that engender capitalism as a social formation. This may be making too much of something that isn’t actually necessary for Marx to connect the various levels of his analysis – but it does pose problems for us historians. Here are a few points that Marx makes in relation to history, development and the emergence of the value-form that I want to try to work through (for my own sanity) – staying within these two chapters……

In relation to the abstraction of the money-form from extended exchange:
“Money necessarily crystallizes out of the process of exchange, in which different products of labour are in fact equated with each other, and thus converted into commodities. The historical broadening and deepening of the phenomenon of exchange develops the opposition between use-value and value which is latent in the nature of the commodity. The need to give an external expression to this opposition for the purposes of commercial intercourse produces the drive towards an independent form of value, which finds neither rest nor peace until an independent form has been achieved by the differentiation of commodities into commodities and money. (181)”
(Note how the drive for money to become abstracted – in order for it to serve a function within the opposition between use-value and value – is based on ‘broadening and deepening’ of exchange)

In relation to the space[s] of exchange:
“The exchange of commodities begins where communities have their boundaries, at their points of contact with other communities, or with members of the latter. However, as soon as products have become commodities in the external relations of a community, they also, by reaction, become commodities in the internal life of the community…The constant repetition of exchange makes it a normal social process. In the course of time, therefore, at least some part of the products must be produced intentionally for the purpose of exchange. (182)”
(This is basically the entire Dobb-Sweezy, and later, the Hilton, transition debates, posed in a few sentences)

The combination of the two operations quoted above:
“In the same proportion as exchange bursts its local bonds [the space of original and direct exchange], and the value of commodities accordingly expands more and more into the material embodiment of human labor as such, in that proportion does the money-form become transferred to commodities which are by nature fitted to perform the social function of a universal equivalent. (183)”

So at this point Marx moves into a more theoretical discussion of money (gold, or its symbolic representation) and the money-form (its own logic and function within circulation – expressing a commodities value in some material magnitude – but this magnitude (price) is not ‘value’ itself). But what is interesting to note is – and I may be going on a tangent here, so please ignore if this seems inane – that there seems to be an underlying ‘pressure’ operating in Marx’s argument here: the pressure of expanded exchange, which then becomes spatialized. In the first, this seems to be a pressure related to the diversity of use-values (i.e., the division of labour), and in the latter, the desire of an externally produced use-value which then engenders exchange across ‘borders’ and a corresponding transformation in production internal to those ‘borders’. And to leap forward into Chapter Three, this is a process wherein a new level of abstraction emerges – both a social abstraction (expressed in socially necessary labour time) and the modern individual, isolated modern subject – both of which cofigure the other:

“The owners of commodities therefore find out that the same division of labour which turns them into independent private producers also makes the social process of production and the relations of the individual producers to each other within that process independent of the producers themselves; they also find out that the independence of the individuals from each other has as its counterpart and supplement a system of all-round material dependence. (p. 202-203)”

Fast-forward to the end of Chapter Three and this becomes global – in that the conditions in which one can speak of the ‘global’ is qua the abstraction of ‘world money’:
“It is in the world market that money first functions to its full extent as the commodity whose natural form is also the directly social form of realization of human labour in the abstract. Its mode of existence becomes adequate to its concept. (241)”

But back to my inanity – while I think it would be incorrect to force some type of primary historical or singular logic to Marx’s multiple levels of analysis, I do want to read some type of ‘primary mover’ into the argument that Marx has developed thus far. And this, it seems, comes down to the intensification of the division of labour and its spatial expansion (i.e., does the emergence of value as the quantitative equivalence of abstract labour emerge from a qualitative problem of diversity and numbers? ). This then brings us back to questions of historical development at the level of social production – i.e., historical materialism.

Why am I harking on this point? – Well, I am trying to bridge the two directions that I have (probably incorrectly) read into Marx’s theorization: is it some temporary moment within the development of expanded and individuated production that social-labour time becomes abstracted – only to then fold back on itself to determine that very process, or is it abstract value that originally engendered the process whereby value determines labour ‘behind the backs’ of individual producers? What is the temporal logic of this process (not necessarily a historical sequence, but a historicity contained within capitalism’s own logic)?

July 14, 2008


Since internet is still a difficult proposition here, I really can't post anything else again until one week later from today, so I'm going to fit in more than possible into one post. I still owe everyone a post from chapter nine (I was out in some villages), and chapter ten is itself about eighty pages with too many intriguing lines to summarize easily. Not only that, but I also realize that at this point it might be useful to revisit and reply to others' posts, to keep some sort of inter-readership engagement alive, or at least the possibility of it.

From what I remember of Max's post (I am typing this without a connection at home), he raised two general problematics in reading the early chapters of volume one.

First, what is the role of use-value? Does it provide basis for a humanist ontology from which to critique exchange-value?

Second, how does one theorize transition without necessarily running into the cul-de-sac of the twentieth century transition debates?

These questions are certainly related, for if use-value is/was a historical mode of production -- or at least the dominant tendency of one -- then that would mean one could discover through empirical investigation how the world of use-value became one of exchange-value. Here it would perhaps be useful, at a later date, to look at Althusser and especially Balibar's essays on transition and modes of production.

My hunch is that, as scholars of the non-European world (not an innocent category, I know), some of us cannot escape from these sorts of discussions because they are the crux of the how/why/when of difference. Even in a purportedly homogeneous part of the world, of course, there is difference between the agricultural industrial reserve army outside of London and the capitalist class in charge of the textile mills. Let me state that, in trying to think through difference from a reading of Capital, I believe it is more rewarding to work with Marx's logic and how he shows the means through which capital generates and sustains inequality in the face of purported equality rather than to search for a positivistic, transhistorical model of transition. That is, a history that attempts to tell the story of how a use-value society shifted to one of exchange-value is misguided because it presumes that these elements are autonomous rather than parasitic upon one another. The real substance of Capital is to show that difference is not simply incidental to history but part of an eternally coherent pattern. How far back one thinks they can stretch this analysis is, of course, an open question.

That said, I would be remiss for not mentioning that I am still struck by how many instances Marx will write something that gives legitimacy to these sorts of transition debates and the so-called humanist Marx. In his narration of the history of the working day in chapter ten, he makes the temporal comparison between the 14th century labor laws of England which tried to extend the working day, versus those of the nineteenth century which shortened it. In short, a change had occurred - a revolution instantiated by wage labor - that had converted work from an activity aimed at producing concrete use-value to one dominated by the abstraction of socially necessary labor time. And of course Marx will often make broad statements about the tendency of humankind to work and labor in all conditions -- something that the humanist Marxists (e.g. "the goal of socialism is to abolish the alienation of labor, to reconnect labor to its species-being," etc.) wrote about extensively in the early to mid- twentieth C.E.

As I've written before and as Max pointed out, I think the best reading is one in which one concludes that exchange and use-value are not opposed or autonomous - historically or conceptually - but rather in constant, mutual dialectics (oops). Something along the lines of Lukacs, Spivak or even the passage I quoted earlier about how use-value, in order to serve as use-value, needs to be realized, that is, exchanged.

I guess this is as good a place as any to jump into some textual analysis. Of these two chapters, the u-v/x-v distinction only really gets airtime in the discussion of Senior's famous last hour (pages 333 to 339) and a little more subtly in the working day. The math is a little tricky for me to follow, and I'll talk about it a bit in the next paragraph. But before delving into it, I think that, apropos what I just said, it is interesting that Marx constantly insists upon the fixity of use-value as a stable thing which the worker is being denied in only being paid wages (its exchange-value). Marx will repeatedly say things like "the worker's use-value is five times the exchange-value," when all of these are really conditioned by the market and there's no guarantee that the commodities he has produced will actually be realized, consumed by buyers at the exact price set by the capitalist. This problem of realization is, I have read, questioned in later volumes that try to understand why crises occur (overproduction and underconsumption are two concepts tossed about by crisis theorists). For now, Marx works with the assumption that such use-value is stable, perhaps for simplicity's sake, but in the end it also reads as - in Max's words - a stable, ontological condition.

At any rate, the crux of the wage labor discussion is that wages are the exchange-value of labor, and supposedly they represent the minimum amount of money a worker needs in order for it to replace itself (in addition to some other considerations of quality of life, recreation, etc. that are up for debate in the work laws of the mid-nineteenth century). However, the use-value of labor is embodied in the work the laborer performs, as a result of which the capitalist can accrue a profit by selling commodities that are more than mere raw materials.

The discussion about Senior's famous last hour purportedly is about the importance of recognizing the distinction between constant and variable capital. But I think the distinction between use-value and exchange-value -- and how their conflation is the origin of exploitation -- is also a central issue.

Senior's argument is simply that if a capitalist invests ₤100,000 -- 80,000 in constant capital and 20,000 in variable capital -- and if the worker is paid to work 23 half-hours, and if the total value of the commodities is 115,000, then one could divide the total 115,000 by 23, arguing that for each half hour, the worker generates 5,000. The first twenty are thus spent merely replacing the 100,000 investment, another for replacing the wear and tear of the machinery and the last two half hours - 10,000 in value - constitute the surplus value.

Marx rebukes Senior for his circular logic -- Senior has no reason to suppose that the total value can be divided by 23 evenly. More importantly, if one recognizes that the 80,000 worth of constant capital (machines, building, etc.) will be there no matter the work of the laborer [that is, if Cc+ Vc = Cc + SV, then you can subtract Cc from both sides -- "You are altogether on the wrong track, if you think that he loses a single moment of his working day in reproducing or replacing the values of the cotton, the machinery and so on"] , then one would recognize that it is not the laborer's responsibility to replace the value of Constant capital, and hence the laborer is only responsible for earning its wages and generating surplus value, which can be divided into two equal halves of its work. That is, it is generating 40,000 while being paid for only 20,000. During half of the time, the laborer is working for free for the capitalist -- not simply in the last hour.

The question I have kept asking myself throughout my thinking of this chapter, however, is whether or not Senior recognizes the distinction between the use-value and exchange-value of labor. In other words, does he recognize the fact that labor will do things that produce a value that is greater than the amount he paid for labor? I suppose the heart of his deception is to make it appear as though these two amounts are virtually the same. But if his hypothetical 10% profit industry was making more money - say 20% - he would have to recognize the discrepancy.

But Marx does reprimand Senior for thinking about labour-power in a strictly exchange-value sense which merely divides total value by chunks of time, without recognizing the actual work of labour-power: "On the contrary, it is because his labour converts the cotton and the spindles into yarn, because he spins, that the values of the cotton and spindle go over to the yarn of their own accord. This is a result of the QUALITY of his labor, not its QUANTITY" (335-336, emphases added).

What I think Marx tries to say with this passage, which is ambiguous and appears seemingly out of context, is that Senior -- and wage labor generally -- does not recognize the actual work of labor and treats it in congealed, undifferentiated chunks of time. This treatment of labour allows one to play mathematical tricks to obscure the value generated by it (such as Senior) but it also simply obscures the fact that labour is not an even, homogeneous process. In reality, I bet, some hours are more productive than others. From the standpoint of use-value, the value of labor is found in the end result of the work and not its market value, which was determined before the work was even undertaken. In Senior's formula, quality is obscured by a focus on quantity.

This shift seems to be located by Marx in the shift from working to simply make things to working a certain number of hours paid according to time. Here is a passage I thought remarkable and had never read before:

Still, during the greater part of the eighteenth century, up to the epoch of large-scale industry, capital in England had not succeeded in gaining control of the worker's whole week by paying the weekly value of his labour-power ... the fact that they could live for a whole week on the wage of four days did not appear to the workers to be a sufficient reason for working for the capitalist for the other two days (385).

This passage indicates very starkly what Marx seems to only hint at in previous sections. Specifically, as wage-labor has intensified, the emphasis on the use-value of labor-power and on simple reproduction has shifted towards one focusing upon the exchange-value of labor-power, which obscures the ability of labor to generate surplus-value. Man, I'm being confusing right now. What I mean is: in Marx's scheme, there once was a time when you were paid for the work you did, flat. If you made useful things, you took home all the money you made from that. Later, in the early stages of wage-labor, capitalists did not yet manipulate wages in order to force workers to work all week because in some vague sense wages represented the amount of work one had to do each week in order to survive and in order to satisfy the demands of the market. But, in the final shift, when capitalists seemed more concerned with making workers work more -- on the assumption that the more things they make, the more people will buy, which is a separate concern from the attempt to make workers work longer -- workers are reduced to wages and the goal is to WIDEN THE GAP between wages (exchange-value) and the surplus-value that could be had from the work (use-value). In this final stage, the antinomy of use-value and exchange-value is exploited fully, through minute regulation of time.

Sorry this post is so long and sorry I haven't made many coherent arguments. I haven't even discussed the implications of Marx's temporal analysis. Of course, it is similar to Moishe Postone's work. I think there are foundations here to argue that for Marx -- or for the logic of capital -- the so-called break from capital (history 2s for Dipesh) is really internal to the overall search to maximize value from a work force without exhausting them to death so quickly. And we could also add here some analysis of ideology - the distance one keeps between themselves and their work is what actually allows them to work for so long and so hard. By telling themselves that "I'm not really a heartless capitalist in my real life, I only do it at work, in my free time I like to go fishing and watch opera," they only sustain their commitment to their job.

July 12, 2008

back to square one, or at least to chapter one.......

Apologies for the delay on getting my first post up – temporarily moved to the west coast on my way to Japan and had to buy a brand new set of Capital (left my older editions back in Brooklyn). Its nice to re-read _Capital_ without my previous notes clouding my vision – I find that I am reading the chapters in a whole new light and with new questions emerging…….

As with Andy and Adam, I tended to focus on the ‘function’ of use-value (and useful-labor) in this first chapter, since this has continually been interpreted as Marx positing some type of embodied/humanist ontology that becomes determined or displaced by capital/exchange value– think, for instance, of Part III of Lukacs’ “Reification and Class Consciousnsess” essay (where finance capital M-M’ stands in for capital as a whole, and the proletariat’s proximity to manual labor is the standpoint in which the totality [history] can be consciously grasped in the temporal present) or more recently, Chakrabarty’s division between History I (Marx’s European-derived universal theorization analogous [?] to his own conceptualization of capital’s value-form) and History II (paradoxically the Heideggerian ‘life-world’ as a cultural existence that remains in its own temporal register within capitalism). In both cases use-value, and useful-labor, is rendered as a natural and/or organic form that somehow co-constitutes capital but is also outside of it (logically and historically) – as Spivak argues in the article Andy pointed to below.

With this common (mis?)interpretation – whereby use-value becomes the analytical standpoint to critique abstract exchange value – or as Adam mentioned – the ‘unmarked’ term – use-value tends to fall from its own position within the value-form (the dialectic between exchange and use value). But there is a real problem here concerning how to understand its function in Marx’s argument – is it possible to see it operating on two different levels of analysis: one within the multiplicity of capital’s own logic, and the other, the history of capital as a specific social formation? To begin with the former…..

I think Spivak’s point about use-value being both within and outside of capital’s logic hits the mark – with all the theoretical slight-of-hands that are necessary to make it appear as both, depending on the specific context. In this first chapter, use-value occupies a ‘place’ within the internal-logic of capital itself – that capital’s value form is the dialectic between both use-value and exchange value (rather than as a position outside of it). For example, when he writes at the very beginning of the chapter:

“nothing can be a value without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value. (131)”

Or later in the introduction to the chapter “Process of Exchange”:

“One the other hand, they [commodities] must stand the test as use-values before they can be realized as values. For the labour expended on them only counts in so far as it is expended in a from which is useful for others. However, only the act of exchange can prove whether that labour is useful for others, and its product consequently capable of satisfying needs of other. (179-180)”

In this last quote, both use-value (realized in consumption) and exchange value (realized in the process of exchange) are the necessary conditions of possibility for each other. If we extend this to his discussion of money and the circulation of commodities (chapter three), it is the ceaseless process of commodities “falling out” from M-C-M’ (capital’s equation), the necessary effect for capital to appear as “sweating” money from every pore (the appearance of value adding value to itself).

But even at this level of analysis, an ‘outside’ appears to disturb such a coherent and self-referential logic – particularly concerning the relationship between, on one level, the world of commodities (i.e., that they ‘speak’ their own language – one ‘behind the backs’ of the producers themselves) where ‘value’ constitutes a plane of sociality (though constituted by social-domination) and on the other, some reference to a sociality that consumes use-values (that allows for commodities to mediate the ever-expanding and ever-intensifying process of M-C-M’). Although I find suspect arguments such as Chakrabarty’s, whereby use-value stands in for a presupposed transhistorical cultural subject, I feel that there is a real lacunae regarding use-value, useful-labor, and necessary consumption.

The issue becomes muddier if we have to establish the historical grounds in which this logic is already self-constituted and reproducing (where the commodity is the universal structuring form – e.g. production for exchange rather than immediate use). Andy and Adam have quoted from various places that I think express a vacillation between claims of a transhistorical human practice (labor) and a historically specific form of sociality (“labor”). I don’t necessarily agree that we can assume that use-value was the form/product of human-labour that predated capital (i.e., where past/present becomes homogolous to use-value/exchange respectively). And yet, Marx does seem to be making an argument where use-value was the predominant form – that even with feudalism it was the direct (coerced) extraction of use-value from serfs, etc – processes that were not mediated by abstract, quantified ‘value’ and a social form where the social relationships were consciously grasped by both dominated and dominating. I don’t know how far we can get in thinking-through this issue if we remain within the terms of the classic ‘transition’ debates (Sweezy, Dobb, Hilton, et al), which all seemed to return to their analytical starting points.

But in another register, one concerning history and value, forms of thought, social abstraction and the forces/relations of production, how do understand Marx’s discussion of Aristotle’s failure to ‘discover’ value?

“The secret of the expression of value, namely the equality and equivalence of all kinds of labour because and in so far as they are human labour in general, could not be deciphered until the concept of human equality had already acquired the permanence of a fixed popular opinion. This however becomes possible only in a society where the commodity-form is the universal form of the product of labour; hence the dominant social relation is the relation between men as possessors of commodities. (152)”

The question becomes, while formal equality between individuals > is based on commodity production > which is the pre-condition for labor to be known as the source of value (Ricardo and Marx), then, what was the “cause” of this formal equality to emerge in the first place – one of consciousness or forces of production? Is this the historical origin of capitalism, and is this primarily an epistemological question or one concerning the forces/relations of production dialectic? In this equation it seems to say: labor as the source of value depends on > equality which depends on > specific mode of production > which is the result of a historical transformation of the relations/means of production.

On the one hand, there is the implication that man (of course) makes history, but then another implication that the consciousness that is required for this action is imparted by a specific socio-historical development in the means/relations of production. I think it is this axis, between social formation and historical change, between consciousness/praxis and the specificity of the means/relations of production, which lends itself to so many differing interpretations of Marx’s thought – and this in a section merely discussing the commodity!

I’m hoping we can discuss these types of question as we move farther ahead into volume one~

July 6, 2008

The Road to Hell

This post has been delayed by a power outage at my apartment that lasted some twenty-four hours and several dozen mosquito bites. It has been almost a week since I read these chapters, but let's see what I can remember and sort out coherently.

Karl does some interesting logical acrobatics with use-value and exchange-value and labor-power in Chapter Seven. To open, he chooses simple yet ambiguous and confusing statements: "The use of labour-power is labour itself" and "We shall therefore, in the first place, have to consider the labour process independently of any specific social formation" (283).

The contrast between use-value and exchange-value that Marx hints at is that, where exchange-value is conditioned entirely by social relations and through comparability and competition with other commodities, use-value is not. Why is this distinction important? Because herein lies the key to the conundrum of surplus-value that Marx has set up in previous chapters. If value cannot be generated from the exchange commodities, then the only way to generate surplus-value is by somehow buying a commodity that generates more value than it itself is worth on the market.

What was really decisive for him was the specific use-value which this commodity possesses of being a source not only of value, but of more value than it has itself. This is the specific service the capitalist expects from labour-power (301).

Although he does not use the phrase "wages," Marx foreshadows the economic mathematics by explaining the general concept of labour-power's exchange-value being far exceeded by its use-value, that is, its ability to generate more money than the worth of the raw materials entered into the commodity production process. He does this by talking about "socially necessary labor time," which is central to the concept of wages. The going rate of labour is founded upon the idea that if a laborer can work all day, then they will take home an amount of money that can provide the minimum level of food and housing necessary. If they took home more money, then the dynamics of competition would drive those wages lower and lower, until some regulatory body steps in. So, we begin with the idea that wages signify the amount of money necessary to keep the workforce alive - this is labour-power's exchange value.

On the other hand, Marx raises the objection that if a worker could actually earn their socially necessary amount of wages in only six hours' time, they are not rewarded extra simply for working twelve hours. The wages would, presumably, simply be lowered such that the worker is only paid the minimum while s/he generates twice the amount of value as would be generated in a system of equilibrium. This is because the value that the laborer generates is independent of labor-power's exchange-value but rather is the usefulness, or use-value, of labor-power.

Does this make sense? Here is the decisive quote:

The value of a day's labour-power amounts to 3 shillings, because on our assumption half a day's labour is objectified in that quantity of labour-power, i.e. because the means of subsistence required every day for the production of labour-power cost half a day's labour. But the past labour embodied in the labour-power and the living labour it can perform, and the daily cost of maintaining labour-power and its daily expenditure in work, are two totally different things. The former determines the exchange-value off the labour-power, the latter is its use-value. The fact that half a day's labour is necessary to keep the worker alive during 24 hours does not in any way prevent him from working a whole day. Therefore the value of labour-power, and the value which that labour-power valorizes [verwertet] in the labour-process, are two entirely different magnitudes; and this difference was what the capitalist had in mind when he was purchasing the labour-power. (300, emphases mine)

To return to the opening line, Marx seems to argue that when labor-power is sold, before any work has ever been done, based upon past work and competitive market prices, exchange-value is at work. After the selling, then the actual labor itself is the use-value, or the creation of new values through work, which is alienated from the laborer and is the property of the capitalist.

A sports analogy: Steve Nash was signed to a 5-year, 65$ million contract in 2004. It seemed like a lot of money at the time, but it certainly wasn't the most money being paid to a basketball star. Several things worked against him. For one, he was a white point guard with the perception of being too slow at his position, and he had been injured a few years. Plus he was getting old, and as far as white point guards in the NBA go, historically, he wasn't going to play that well during the entire contract. Still, the Phoenix Suns showed him the Benjamins, and he signed, while his Dallas team let him leave and insisted he wasn't worth that much.

Since then, Nash has won two MVPs and has largely been responsible for the amount of sellout crowds, late playoff runs (which generate extra income) and Phoenix Suns merchandise sold in the last four years. Compared to the other players in the league who make more than him, he is WILDLY underpaid. But then, how could I even make such a statement? To the classical economist, he is paid what he is worth, that is, the price of the market at the time he sold his labor-power. That is, his exchange-value - his price - is his worth. Only by keeping an eye on use-value -- the valorization of the work Nash does -- can one even claim he is underpaid. That is, his use-value far exceeds his exchange-value. His labor has been alienated from him since the time he signed the contract, however, and however well he plays is not his property but that of the Suns owner, Robert Sarver. So, in a sense, the phrase "live up to your contract," so abundant in sports, only makes sense within this Marxian frame. By the way, I realize no one should ever be paid $65 million to play basketball.

If you follow the logic of this argument, you notice that it is not simply the case that exchange-value depends upon the market but use-value does not. They are both conditioned by it. In order for use-value to realize itself as surplus-value it needs to be, well, realized:

This whole course of events, the transformation of money into capital, both takes place and does not take place in the sphere of circulation. It takes place through the mediation of circulation because it is conditioned by the purchase of the labour-power in the market; it does not take place in circulation because what happens there is only an introduction to the valorization process, which is entirely confined to the sphere of production (302).

So we cannot say that use-value and exchange-value are two separate spheres of activity. And although Marx emphasizes that these concepts are ultimately indifferent to one another, he still throws out curveballs (sorry, I'll stop) like this one:
Use-value are produced by capitalists only because and in so far as they form the material substratum of exchange-value, are the bearers of exchange-value. (293)

Seductively simple, yet it begs a whole host of questions. I'll leave it there for now.

Final thought -- throughout this explanation of circulation and valorization lied dormant the concept of competition that constantly valorizes, adjusts and readjusts itself. How this competition works is something of a contested question in Marxian debates, but, taking cues from David Harvey and Anwar Shaikh, the distinction between constant and variable capital, introduced in Chapter eight, is very important. So keep your eyes peeled.

July 2, 2008