November 17, 2008

Primitive Accumulation, Transition and Colonialism

So some concluding remarks on these final chapters. The more I think about the text in its entirety, and the relation of these last few chapters to the argument that had been developed thus far, more questions emerge than are answered, which is a sign of a productive reading. Anyhoo….

For such a loaded concept, the Chapter on Primitive Accumulation was surprisingly short. Starting from Neil Smith and Harvey’s take on this last section, the later empirical surveys of enclosure, the Poor Laws, etc are directly juxtaposed to the Smithian conceptualization of a utopian market that Marx had previously been working within. Here, history, ‘actual’ history, is juxtaposed to the universal claims of property, natural rights and Bentham, which constituted the discourse of political economy.

So problem number (1): we can say, following Harvey, that on one level Marx has moved from a theoretical analysis of political economy into the realm of history in order to counter any claims of equality, natural outgrowth, natural basis for property, etc. But what are the implications of this inversion of the analytical narrative? Earlier Marx worked through an immanent critique where the argument was that if Adam Smith’s free market was allowed to function in its own terms, we would arrive to the accumulation models given in Chapter 25 - the result being the polarities of increasing capital accumulation and increasing misery (not a mutually exclusive relationship – but one produced through labor in capitalist production through time)? Here, however, the misery was explicit in its ‘origin’ – and has only been dampened by its sublimation into what Marx called the “silent compulsion of economic relations” (p. 899 - subsistence commodity consumption for the worker, competitive pressure for the capitalist). The misery has always been and is there, except now, with the history of primitive/originary accumulation, it is encapsulated within a ‘moment’ when it becomes possible to locate it analytically. Left at this, capitalism is book ended by a miserable and unequal situation that all are aware of (original Bloody legislation > possible Systemic crisis), but internal to its processes as accumulation drives on, the violence seems to be veiled as natural conditions that are self-legitimated.

A tangential question is what are the implications of moving in and out of an immanent critique of political economy? It seems here that the result is that political economy becomes merely “ideology” – in Marx’s terms, the economists are the ‘sycophants’ of capitalism. But now, what happens to the conceptual apparatus that he has left us, one developed out of a critique of political economy? Is this a corrective to political economy? Is this a higher development of political economy? In all honesty, I am not particularly invested in these sorts of questions, but they did come to mind when reading.

Issue number (2): I think one of the problems with the concept of ‘primitive accumulation’ is that it might be overstated – and this overstatement can be understood within the context of Marx’s presentation. Primitive accumulation is a rendering of Smith’s ‘original accumulation’. Thus, still taking the concepts of political economy in order to ‘deconstruct’ them (lack of a better term, sorry Derrideans), Marx shows that the state was central, that - while still situated in an earlier legal structure - what occurred was actually illegal, and that force/violence/etc was necessary in the process. But does this actually mean that Marx has a new and applicable concept of ‘primitive accumulation’?

In this regard, the chapter starts with a logical sequence of ‘presuppositions’ (see Andy’s citation below) – which, at a logical level of M-C-M’ - there does seem to be a need for a ghostly M (potential capital – yet not in circulation, and thus not capital) to be available in a different form of wealth (aristocratic, feudal, etc). But more important to Marx’s own conceptual apparatus is the important argument that primitive accumulation is when independent laborers, no matter if they are serfs or in corvee system, etc, are separated from their own means of production. Thus it is not primitive accumulation in a monetary sense, but the creation of a labor market. Thus, primitive accumulation has more to do with simple reproduction described in Chapter 23 (having to do with the reproduction of the relations of production) than the original circulation of capital – only in so far that the labor market is the central manifestation of capital once in circulation (i.e., the source of valuation).

As you can see from my own circular confusion, I think the question of ‘origins’ is a bunk one, and one that capital, understood at the abstract level in Marx’s terms, can never be known. In my reading, the most interesting aspect of this short chapter is that the logical analysis of models of accumulation, of exchange and circulation, of the dialectical forms of the commodity, money, etc that constitute the bulk of Volume One are, to a certain degree, foreclosed within their own conceptual boundaries; an episteme that is hard to approach the “non-history” / “pre-history” / “transition to” within its own terms. The problem is that, as Marx states at the very beginning of this chapter, primitive accumulation is a necessary presupposition of the entire process – both in the endless series within a circuit of accumulation, or at the level of social production, etc. The logic itself requires primitive accumulation, but when you think about it, it can never be known without presupposing what it conceptually anticipates.

Does this mean that the history of the emergence of capitalism cannot be known? Of course not, as Marx himself clearly shows in the last few chapters. The records are there, the magistrates, factory inspectors, the political battles, the statistics on pauperism, the emergence of classical political economy, etc is the archive of this history. But the concept of ‘primitive accumulation’ has problems that need to be thought through. One final example of the problems inherent in the concept is revealed in Marx’s own presentation: Marx goes through the “history of primitive accumulation” in the last chapters– an analysis that covers about 400 years of history. Thus primitive or original accumulation cannot be pinpointed, but only understood at the level of massive social transformations, population movements, urbanization, peripheral industrialization, etc. In other words, only at the level of the very general. Thus the interesting thing is thinking about the connection between (1) at the logical level there is the presupposition of a singular or isolated origin in which the spiral of accumulation emanates from through time, but: (2) at the level of history, it is a durational “moment” – a process that never actually disappears - which Harvey theorizes as “accumulation by dispossession.”

Or, to approach from a different direction, what can be known through the analytical concept of primitive accumulation (or for that matter, “transition”) if not what is already presupposed in the historical narrative? I think that the most useful aspects of the concept can be found in the multiple “levers” of accumulation that emerge at different points from 1450 through to the 19th Century; the state, taxation, public debt, etc. These are, of course, not limited to an ostensible historical period of ‘transition’, but comprise a genealogy of capitalism’s own constitutive elements. The question becomes, at what point does their conjuncture constitute the “capitalist” moment?

One final comment is that it is, following Harvey, very interesting to ask why Marx would end this text with a discussion of colonialism. We would assume that this would be an attack on the emergent imperialist forms of the mid-19th Century (as Andy noted, British imperialism in India being the most explicit example). But Marx here is ONLY discussing settler colonialism, thus this chapter is merely about the economic situation in America and Australia. Thus what I believe Marx is doing is, following his method of analysis throughout Volume One, is merely arriving at certain tendencies within capitalism through a critique of conventional political economy, here, represented by Wakefield. Wakefield’s project was to answer why capital investment was difficult in these settler colonies, and through Wakefield’s comments, Marx shows that it is the instability of the labour market (i.e., plenty of land for potential labour to cultivate, no compulsion to sell labour or concentrate the means of production, etc) that did not allow industrial capitalism to fully lay its determinative roots. In other words, this chapter is the logical extension of the preceding chapters – the settler-colonial situation is juxtaposed to a process that has already occurred in Europe whereby the compulsions inherent to capitalist accumulation were fully borne out (labour forced to sell labour-power, pauperism criminalized, means of production secured by an elite through property laws, etc). What are not explored are the connections between colonialism (settler or imperialistic) that were logically and historically related to capitalism (think classical imperialism theories like Hobson, Lenin, Luxemburg, or current divergence theorists like Pomeranz). Interesting that Harvey did not make that distinction but rather linked this up with later theorists like Rosa Luxemburg, since they are not related (different form of colonialism, and also different analytical function within the respective arguments).

Speaking of transition, onto Vol II.

November 16, 2008

Max's Falling Rate of Adding Anything Useful To Our Discussion

Chapter 25 is the culmination of, if not of the entire argument in Vol I, at least of the trajectory beginning with the principle of cooperation (Ch. 13); moving through the division of labour, into machinery, and now the logical explication of the dynamics of these various factors within capitalism encapsulated in the concepts of technical composition, value composition, and organic composition of capital. As Andy has already discussed at length, Marx directly states that there is a contradictory tendency working within capitalism’s dynamics whereby, as the organic composition of capital rises (i.e. C=constant V=variable, C/V, thus an increasing ratio of constant capital reducing the amount expended on variable capital), then, if we take the rate of profit as P=s/v over 1+c/v, you have a falling rate of profit as the organic composition rises.

Here, the falling rate of profit is declared a “law”, but in Volume Three it is reduced back to a “tendency” – something that has produced a massive amount of debate within Marxian economics. If one takes the ‘Falling Rate of Profit’ thesis at face value, as an IMMANENT law within capitalism, one of its EMMINENT collapse, then you have a teleology that can inform a politics (if you could call it that, maybe a ‘faith’ is more appropriate) where the conclusion is already prefigured in the present. But, as Harvey argues at the end of lecture 11, it is important to note that Marx is working through an abstract logic of capitalism, through the concepts that political-economy of the time had developed, to show that, at a certain level of abstraction, if the market operated as Smith and others theorized, we would get the polarization of wealth / pauperism within in its own terms. Ricardo and others recognized a ‘Falling Rate of Profit’ as well, but located it outside of capitalism, in population, in natural resource depletion, etc., while Marx located it within the very dynamics outlined by classical political economy.

This, I think, is one productive way of reading this chapter; that rather than a descriptive analysis of how capitalism has developed historically, and re-ordered social production in time and space, it is, at one level, a working through of the discourse of political economy. This is NOT however, to separate political economy as (subjective) discourse from the real social developments as objective reality with no inter-relation between the two. Marx seems to be moving towards the objective (in his terms) through the concepts developed by the appearances that actually shape social reality – remember throughout the text Marx constantly argues that political-economy has taken the concepts from everyday life, from the appearances that capitalism requires. Thus fetishism is a necessary aspect of the logic of the system, and working through this fetishism is necessary to see how the system actually works. We could discuss how much Marx assumes an epistemological possibility that is equal to a coming-into-consciousness…something that one could read, as in the following passage:

“Thus as soon as the workers learn the secret of why it happens that the more they work, the more alien wealth they produce, and that the more the productivity of their labour increases, the more does their very function as a means for the valorization of capital becomes precarious; as soon as they discover that the degree of intensity of the competition amongst themselves depends wholly on the pressure of the relative surplus population; as soon as, by setting up trade unions, etc., they try to organize planned co-operation between the employed and the unemployed in order to obviate or to weaken the ruinous effects of this natural law of capitalist production on their class, so soon does capital and its sycophant, political economy, cry out at the infringement of the ‘eternal’ and so to speak ‘sacred’ law of supply and demand. (p. 793)”

Two interesting points about this passage: (1), yes, unionization, political activism, etc is assumed to be predicated upon an ‘understanding’ of this system – which of course can be easily countered by the labor politics that embody the very logic of capital, and; (2) the necessary appearances of capitalism that political economy assumes – the very concepts that Marx takes-up based on an assumption their social effectivity – are reduced to mere ‘ideology’ of the capitalists.

Ok, so back to the chapter. As Harvey outlined in the lecture, there are two models of accumulation explicated in this chapter; one expresses the falling rate of surplus-value that can be re-capitalized due to the absorption of labor reserves and thus a rise in wages, and another where technological innovation enters into the circuit, reducing the demand for labour, produces a surplus population, increases the rate of exploitation and thus increases the rate of accumulation. Here are the sequences:

Model One:
Accumulation of Surplus Value » Portion of S.V. re-capitalized » Generates increase demand for labour power » Absorption of Surplus Population » Rising Wages » Less Surplus Value » Less Surplus Value Accumulated for Recapitalization

Model Two:
Accumulation » Portion of S.V. re-capitalized » New Technologies » Reduces Demand for Labour » Produces Surplus Population » High-Rate of Exploitation » Increase in Capital Accumulation

So what is being expressed is that through the organizational and technological innovations that are driven by the drive to accumulate, you can have a reduction in labour, yet its rate of exploitation increases from the pressure of the industrial reserve army produced by the process. Marx notes that this is yet another contradiction of the logic – that labour produces capital and thus drives the process of accumulation that constitutes capitalism, and yet, through this process, creates the conditions for its increasing superfluity. Abstracted from this, then, is the general contradiction that Andy discussed, the polarity of increasing wealth with increasing poverty.

Again, however, we return to the importance of reading this as an internal tendency if the logic is isolated in its own abstract terms. Harvey argues that the “external interactions” interrupt this logic so much that one can never state a general law with any certainty. What he means by ‘external’ interactions, and something that opens into a whole other set of interesting questions, is that the two models mentioned above seem to be within a firm, or within, lets say a branch of industry, which allows for us to trace a singular circuit. But Marx himself moves into questions of concentration/centralization (see Andy’s helpful summary of this discussion below) that brings in the question of multiple interactions, the pressure of competition, the fluidity of interactions, etc into the analysis.

Thus Harvey notes multiple ways in which both the (1) rising organic composition of capital and (2) the falling rate of profit can easily be impinged and rectified. Thus these laws or models are not the end-all of the analysis, but are ways through which Marx locates specific tendencies at certain levels of the system, that then can be utilized in sociological or historical analysis, but only in relation with multiple other factors. For a great example of what these ‘other’ factors are, check out the last 20 minutes of the Harvey lecture when he discusses the absorption of the latent population within the last thirty-years which, when viewed in specific locations, actually inverted the organic composition of capital. In other words, these tendencies could never fully express themselves; they only 'appear' at a level of abstraction, both within the fetishisms of the everyday and the economic utopia of political economy. This does not require us to throw out the baby with the bathwater, because these are tendencies, ones that can be located in capitalism’s history, but again, ones that have to be taken in relation to other factors, tendencies, obstacles, etc.

Ok, lets finish this bastard. Onto the last chapters.

November 11, 2008

Chapters Ten through Twenty-Four

Two reasons for the delay in my response: (1) I wanted to catch up on Harvey’s lectures as I find them extremely useful for grasping the basics of Marx’s argument. So I would just sit in a cafĂ© in Japan listening to the audio on an Ipod for hours on end; and then, (2) a family emergency in late September brought me back to California. Now things have returned to normal and I can return to the lectures/texts, although I fear that my understanding of this text and my ability to formulate anything useful to our general discussion has suffered from my break from both. So I think the only thing I can do is to spit out some random comments on 14 chapters and try to get back to where Andy, et al have left off…

Firstly, Harvey’s outline – one wherein Marx’s analysis is charted as a series of elements and tensions that are embedded in specific concepts (concepts that do not synthesize these contradictions but themselves come into contradiction within their own relations spawning further concepts, etc, etc.) – was EXTREMELY helpful for me and I urge others to refer to the first few lectures for this helpful outline.

Secondly, Harvey touched on what had become (for better or worse) a point of discussion on this blog; namely, is Marx, at specific points in the text, making an historical or logical argument? Harvey first brings this up in Lecture Two, when talking about the necessary function/emergence of money from generalized commodity exchange. Here, Harvey argues that this is not an historical argument (i.e. a history of monetary development) but rather is providing the conceptual tools in which to understand that history – a great answer to our (my?) dilemma.

A further note on the logic/history question is that since Marx’s critique is immanent to the conceptual matrix of the-then political economists, there is a reality (for a lack of a better term) to analyzing the economic logic since the concepts deployed ARE, to varying degrees, expressive of the appearances of capitalism itself. In other words, the logic is immanent to the ideological self-understanding of the historical formation of capitalism. This doesn’t help with questions of ‘transition’ per se, but at least we enter the problem by seeing the necessary relationship between the logic outlined here and the history Marx is working through as co-constitutive of capital at various levels. Ok, so onto the chapters…

CHAPTER TEN: One thing that struck me about this chapter is that we have an explicit shift into an actual historical analysis – whereby the ‘working day’ becomes the analytical concept through which to understand factory laws, politics and the social experience of industrial production. All the main concepts, both of the preceding chapters (constant and variable value, degree of exploitation, the rate of surplus value, etc) and the upcoming chapters (rate and mass of surplus value, productivity. etc) are applied or prefigured in Marx’s discussion of the ‘working day.’ One concluding paragraph in particular contains themes that I found particularly useful to think through:

“We see then, that, apart from extremely elastic bounds, the nature of the exchange of commodities itself imposes no limit to the working-day, no limit to surplus-labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working-day as long as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working-days out of one. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working-day to one of definite normal duration. There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides. Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working-class.” (p. 344)

Within the logical dynamics of capitalism discussed up to this point, we again see Marx extending the earlier distinction between use-value and exchange value, emphasizing here the tension between the tendential expansion of value (valorization of value; M-C-M’) and the limitations located in the realm of utility/physical reproduction (Note - The concept of “limits” might be something we can tag for further discussion, as this seems to be a central way in which people have reconceptualized the Marxian project; natural limitations [environmental Marxists of the 1970s], human limitations [Malthusians, or, in a different way, Polanyi], or cultural limitations [cultural life-worlds that are retained internal/outside of capitalist-exchange-relations]). Marx seems to employ it at times like this in order to highlight the social, political and/or legal results of this process (i.e., the battle over time, over the working day). In other words, this inherent contradiction to the logic of capitalist reproduction is expressed in the realm of the political. Harvey argues that this is where class politics first emerges explicitly in the text – that Marx is pointing out that when equal rights meet in the market (legal seller / legal buyer), then force decides.

Skipping to CHAPTER THIRTEEN: A general discussion of cooperation (as a principle that capitalism inherits from manufacture) leads into the next chapters related to division of labour, manufacture and machinery. Here Marx is dealing with the unique qualities and revolutionary character of the cooperation of social labor found within this historical form – something that is qualitatively different from earlier historical forms of social-cooperation. As Andy pointed to, the quantitative amassing of labor for industrial production (in Marx’s terms, let’s say the extensive extraction of surplus value, i.e. question of magnitude) marks, at a certain point, a qualitatively historical epoch; the revolutionary character of, and necessity of this form of production to, capital. What I think Marx is trying to do is counter those who attribute the unleashing of social productive power to solely capital; rather he wants to acknowledge the possibilities (where ‘species being’ functions in his argument) but still show the human degradation that this is carried out through.

Another interesting point which I think is important for those interested in social geography is a theme that is introduced here, and one expanded in the division of labour section of the next chapter; that of the spatial mapping of capitalist relations. On 446, Marx writes:

“On the one hand, co-operation allows work to be carried on over a large area; for certain labour processes, therefore it is required simply by the physical constitution of the object of labour [Marx lists various infrastructural projects here – ones that necessitate long-term capital outlays]…On the other hand, while extending the scale of production renders possible a relative contraction of its arena. This simultaneous restriction of space and extension of effectiveness, which allows a large number of incidental expenses (faux frais) to be spared, results form the massing together of workers and of various labour processes, and from the concentration of the means of production. (446)”

Harvey comments later that where production had previously been sequential, now it was simultaneous in space – constituting a new concept that appears in the text - the ‘collective worker’.

So as Marx moves from the principle of cooperation into the division of labour, we see a further explication of the dual tendencies of concentration/extension, specialization/generalization, and interestingly, independence/dependence that mark capitalism. An important point that kicks off section two is where Marx hints at the dynamics of historical change; that a higher form of productive development still contains elements of the ‘old’, yet set in motion within a new social dynamic:

“Manufacture, in fact, produces the skill of the specialized worker by reproducing and systematically driving to an extreme within the workshop the naturally developed differentiation which it found ready to hand in society. (458-459)”

And reiterated later:

“The different stages of the process, previously successive in time, have become simultaneous and contiguous in space. Hence a greater quantity of finished commodities is produced within the same period. This simultaneity, it is true, arises from the general co-operative form of the process as a whole; but manufacture not only finds the conditions for co-operation ready to hand; it also, to some extent, creates them by subdividing handicraft labour. On the other hand, it only accomplishes the social organization of the labour process by riveting each worker to a single fraction of the work. (464)

This understanding of history (or, more precisely, the history of social production) extends into the emergence of industrial capitalism out of basic manufacture as well, where capitalism, a qualitatively new historical form, works with what already constitutes the productive forces and relations of society (concentration and division of labour). Thus what appears to be a mere extension of an earlier productive principle is actually utilized within and determined by a new social formation.

The passage above also points to a distinction that Marx makes between the division of labour in the workshop (manufacture) and the division of labour in society (artisan/handicraft); the result is a very different form of social production, and as Andy pointed to, this is where class conflict functions within the factory. It is not an historical delineation since, as Harvey emphasized, these emerge in hybrid forms – outsourcing or artisan production continuing on the periphery of industrial centers. Also, the social division of labor (the dispersal of production through space) and the division of labour in the factory (the concentration of labour in space) are in a necessary relation to each other – the equilibrium of production in each factory is the necessary condition of possibility for the anarchy of the market that connects these production centers.

To extend this theme into the realm of class politics, Marx makes the distinction between the two types and their respective social results:

“Division of labour within the workshop implies the undisputed authority of the capitalist over men, who are merely the members of a total mechanism which belongs to him. The division of labour within society brings into contact independent producers of commodities, who acknowledge no authority other than that of competition of the coercion exerted by the pressure of their reciprocal interests…The same bourgeois consciousness which celebrates the division of labour in the workshop….denounces with equal vigor every conscious attempt to control and regulate the process of production socially, as an inroad upon such sacred things as the rights of property, freedom and the self-determining ‘genius’ of the individual capitalist. (477)”

He concludes with:

“While the division of labour in society at large, whether mediated through the exchange of commodities or not, can exist in the most diverse economic formations of society, the division of labour in the workshop, as practiced by manufacture, is an entirely specific creation of the capitalist mode of production. (480)”

As Andy commented, Marx is showing the necessary relationship between industrial manufacture and the dynamics of surplus extraction. This brings us to a concluding paragraph on 485, where Marx summarizes the results of his logical analysis and links the division of labour with his earlier discussion of the cooperative principle:

“Co-operation based on the division of labour, in other words, manufacture, begins as a spontaneous formation. As soon as it attains a degree of consistency and extension, it becomes the conscious methodical and systematic form of capitalist production. (485)”

This raises a number of interesting questions – What does Marx mean by spontaneous? More precisely, how far can we ‘push’ spontaneity within, lets say, the polarities of teleology and/or contingency? I read this section as Marx attempting to show the emergence of certain forms of production, the resulting effects on labour and the production process, etc that are not logically prefigured in their ‘origin’. In other words, cooperation does not necessarily beget division of labour, manufacture, and machinery, but these latter principles of production emerge from various tendencies at specific points of development. To cite another passage that summarizes this historical dynamic:

“…manufacture was unable either to seize upon the production of society to its full extent, or to revolutionize that production to its very core. It towered up as an artificial economic construction, on the broad foundation of the town handicrafts and the domestic industries of the countryside. At a certain stage of its development, the narrow technical basis on which manufacture rested came into contradiction with requirements of production which it had itself created. (490)”

Enter the machines….

Harvey splits this chapter into two lectures, and frames his discussion by the concepts that emerge in footnote 4 on page 493. For Harvey, the concepts of technology / nature / production process / reproduction of daily life / social relations / concepts-ideas form moments of a social totality that is not expressive (Hegelian), static, nor driven by a sole determining moment. What I found useful about this was that Harvey understood these as forming an analytical apparatus through which to approach history, that when an invention or transformation occurs in one area (lets say, technological, or a major shift in cultural forms) then this, understandably, affects the other realms – something similar to the Althusserian notion of over-determination I guess without the psychoanalytic connotations. Harvey’s aim is to counter the conventional reading of Chapter Fifteen as indicative of a certain technological-determinism in Marx’s analysis. I can’t imagine how that could be formulated if one started by reading the text from the beginning, but there are times in this chapter, taken in isolation, where it appears that technology is driving the process. But as we saw with the sections quoted above, Marx finds spontaneous formations, that are then driven by their own internal tendencies/tensions, that then produce the conditions for other developments – all of which speak to an extremely complicated array of social relations, labour processes, scientific innovations, trends in daily life, etc that all converge and diverge at specific points in time.

So since this is an extremely long chapter, I will focus on just a few points. Returning to how Marx emplots history via qualitative changes – I think you can locate these within the 'moments' that Harvey pointed to. For example, Marx belabors the point that in manufacture, the “organization of the social labour process is purely subjective”, while with industrial production, it is an “entirely objective organization of production, which confronts the worker as a pre-existing material condition of production. (508)” It is from the materiality of the machine that the “cooperative character of the labour process [emerges as]…a technical necessity.” (508) So the qualitative historical change is marked in both the moments of technology and the production process. Additionally, machinery allows for the entire family to be directly integrated into the industrial process (reproduction of ‘daily life’) – as well as the “intellectual degeneration” (523) that comes along with machine production. As we saw with manufacture coming into contradiction with the necessities that it itself had created – industrial production contains its own dynamic of “perpetual motion” which comes into “certain natural limits in the shape of the weak bodies and the strong wills of its human assistants. (526)” Again the question of limits – here understood as bodies and wills – comes into play. This gets expressed politically as the shortening of the working day – but alas – this is not a victory for labour – for Marx writes:

The shortening of the working day creates, to begin with, the subjective condition for the condensation of labour, i.e. it makes it possible for the worker to set more labour-power in motion within a given time. As soon as that shortening becomes compulsory, machinery becomes in the hands of capital the objective means, systematically employed, for squeezing out more labour in a given time. (536 – see also 542 for a further discussion)”

Not only does machinery increase the intensity of surplus-value extraction, but it also disciplines labor. The earlier term of the ‘collective worker’ is transmuted into the metaphor of the master and their ‘hands.’

“The special skill of each individual machine-operator, who has now been deprived of all significance, vanishes as an infinitesimal quantity in the face of the science, the gigantic natural forces, and the mass of social labour embodied in the system of machinery, which, taken together with those three forces, constitutes the power of the ‘master’. This ‘master’, therefore, in whose mind the machinery and his monopoly of it are inseparably united, contemptuously tells his ‘hands’, whenever he comes into conflict with them…The technical subordination of the worker to the uniform motion of the instruments of labour, and the peculiar composition of the working group, consisting as it does of individuals of both sexes and all ages, gives rise to a barrack-like discipline, which is elaborated into a complete system in the factory…(549)”

The qualitative marking of historical development is also located in the shift from formal to real subsumption – i.e. a move from artisanal production of machinery to machine-produced machinery – in other words, within the ‘moment’ of the production process itself. Thus to round this chapter out, in contrast to a reading of technological determinism, this chapter came out of Marx’s discussion of the contradictions manufacture produced, ones of technical necessity, that were answered by industrial production. Thus this history is understood through the theme of technology. But while there is an historical and necessary relationship between industrial production and capitalism, the determining factor is not increased output itself, but that that output is objectified labour-time, which is necessary with the reproduction of capitalism (M-C-M’).

CHAPTER 16: Jesus Christ this is a lot to go through in one sitting. Ok, Harvey argues that Chs 16 and 17 are reiterations of earlier arguments Marx has already made – but I found that Ch. 16 approached the concept of surplus value in a very different way, relying on the concepts of nature, man and human evolution. Take for instance this long passage (pasted from so the translation might be a little different):

"Thus we may say that surplus-value rests on a natural basis; but this is permissible only in the very general sense, that there is no natural obstacle absolutely preventing one man from disburdening himself of the labour requisite for his own existence, and burdening another with it, any more, for instance, than unconquerable natural obstacle prevent one man from eating the flesh of another. [2] No mystical ideas must in any way be connected, as sometimes happens, with this historically developed productiveness of labour. It is only after men have raised themselves above the rank of animals, when therefore their labour has been to some extent socialised, that a state of things arises in which the surplus-labour of the one becomes a condition of existence for the other. At the dawn of civilisation the productiveness acquired by labour is small, but so too are the wants which develop with and by the means of satisfying them. Further, at that early period, the portion of society that lives on the labour of others is infinitely small compared with the mass of direct producers. Along with the progress in the productiveness of labour, that small portion of society increases both absolutely and relatively. [3] Besides, capital with its accompanying relations springs up from an economic soil that is the product of a long process of development. The productiveness of labour that serves as its foundation and starting-point, is a gift, not of nature, but of a history embracing thousands of centuries. (from, page 647 in Fowkes translation.)"

This reads a little differently then how the concept of surplus-value has been formulated before.

CHAPTERS 17 and 18: Harvey points out that in these chapters Marx is showing the strategic variations in capitalist accumulation – where variations in the relationship between length of working day, intensity of labour and the productivity of labour can be changed in order to increase value extraction. This does not necessarily require an a priori comprehension of this logic, but that it can occur through regular economic mechanisms. This carries over into Chapter 18, where, Marx shows, among other things, how the value of labour can be driven down through seemingly ‘economic’ forces. Starting with the socially necessary labour time concept, the bundle of commodities that determine the value of labour-power (not their quantity but their value) can be driven down through increased labor productivity – thus driving down labour-value itself. It's a basic concept, but one that I never fully grasped. See 659 for a summary and the discussion on 661-662 that extends this theme.

CHAPTER 19: What Marx discussed earlier in as the necessary difference between value and price (refer back to the price-form on 195 – 198) emerges here in relation to wages, as the price-name for remuneration of labour-power, but not the value of labour itself. Here is what Marx originally said about the price-form:

“The price-form, however, is not only compatible with the possibility of a quantitative incongruity between magnitude of value and price, i.e., between the former and its expression in money, but it may also conceal a qualitative inconsistency, so much so, that, although money is nothing but the value-form of commodities, price ceases altogether to express value. Objects that in themselves are no commodities, such as conscience, honour, etc., are capable of being offered for sale by their holders, and of thus acquiring, through their price, the form of commodities. Hence an object may have a price without having value. The price in that case is imaginary, like certain quantities in mathematics. On the other hand, the imaginary price-form may sometimes conceal either a direct or indirect real value-relation; for instance, the price of uncultivated land, which is without value, because no human labour has been incorporated in it.” (copied from – roughly page 196 in the Fowkes translation)

Thus the incongruity of price and value is a necessary incongruity that allows for the anarchy of the market, while value has to assume a fictive equilibrium in order to be determined. In regards to wages, the ‘price-name’ of labour remuneration, Marx writes:

That which comes directly face to face with the possessor of money on the market, is in fact not labour, but the labourer. What the latter sells is his labour-power. As soon as his labour actually begins, it has already ceased to belong to him; it can therefore no longer be sold by him. Labour is the substance, and the immanent measure of value, but has itself no value….In the expression “value of labour,” the idea of value is not only completely obliterated, but actually reversed. It is an expression as imaginary as the value of the earth. These imaginary expressions, arise, however, from the relations of production themselves. They are categories for the phenomenal forms of essential relations. That in their appearance things often represent themselves in inverted form is pretty well known in every science except Political Economy. (from, roughly 677-678 in Fowkes translation)”

Thus labour has no value, and could never have value since it is itself the measure of value – the price name masks this contradiction, and as with elsewhere, this is not a creation of political economy, but rather “imaginary expression” that is nonetheless necessary to the day-to-day exchanges of commodities, including labour-time.

CHAPTERS 20 and 21: Marx goes into the differences of time-wages and piece-wages. These are incremental differences, that although they have their own unique characteristics, still breakdown into a part of the labour expended being unpaid for, i.e. surplus labour. Marx writes:

“Just as, with time-wages, it does not matter whether we assume that the labourer works 6 hours for himself and 6 hours for the capitalist, or half of every hour for himself, and the other half for the capitalist, so here it does not matter whether we say that each individual piece is half paid, and half unpaid for, or that the price of 12 pieces is the equivalent only of the value of the labour-power, whilst in the other 12 pieces surplus-value is incorporated. (From, roughly page 693 in Fowkes translation)”

One interesting aspect that comes up in the Harvey lecture, and one you often hear repeated, is that labour is often convinced that a piece-wage will secure a higher wage, but that when everything is taken together, the actual working-day is extended beyond the terms of what it would have been under a time-wage. In this sense, the increment of a piece-wage returns us back to the question of time (intensification or extension, see 694-695 for an interesting discussion of this).

CHAPTER 22: As Harvey indicates, from this short chapter come themes that would later develop into unequal exchange, unequal development and or dependency theory, whereby national variations in the “average intensity of labour” (701) allow for a strategic maneuvering to extract more surplus value based on these differentials. For example, he writes that:

“In proportion as capitalist production is developed in a country, so, in the same proportion, do the national intensity and productivity of labour there rise above the international level. The different quantities of commodities of the same kind, produced in different countries in the same working time, have, therefore, unequal international values, which are expressed in different prices, i.e. in sums of money varying according to international values. The relative value of money will therefore be les in the nation with a more developed capitalist mode of production than in the nation with a less developed capitalism. (702)”

Although my initial reaction was to note ‘developmentalism’ in the column of my book, when you read this section, its clear that it is capital that is setting the standards for comparison and/or a gradation of development internal to its own logic and standards. We can see similarities with other points of Marx’s argument in conjunction to this chapter: (1) the extension of money from generalized commodity production went as far as the concept of world-money (240), where here the necessary condition for a concept such as ‘world-money’ and generalized world-trade would require that a universal time is established through which these differentials emerge. This is the epistemological basis for socio-economic comparison. (2) As with his concept of the ’collective worker’ this extends throughout the world now, that although there is a delineation internal to a nation or society that has its own unique intensity of labour, this intensity is in relation to other areas, thus one can think of the ability to make these economic formulations as one indication of, lets say, class formation in a certain country. This might get us out of a never-ending search for class-formation in industrial production or living standards; one based rather on the economic differentials rather than production techniques or urbanization, etc. (3) Lastly, its important to note that as Marx jumps from the imaginary relation between an individual capitalist and individual laborer in the market, we are talking about a social totality, and this social totality extends beyond the nation. Thus was also seen in Chapter 15 when he discussed the methods by which capital solves the ‘glut’ problem – dumping in the colonies. This expansion becomes necessary for the next chapters.

PART SEVEN (INTRO, CHAPTERS 23 and 24): As Andy already indicated, Harvey points out this is the culmination of Marx’s argument in Volume One. The conceptual pieces are all in place, and although he has touched upon the process of accumulation/reproduction before (Chapters 3 through 5; C-M-C and M-C-M’), this is a direct analysis of its own tendencies and dynamics. It is important to reiterate what Harvey and Andy have both mentioned: that Marx had to assume certain impossible things in order to first explicate the logic of capitalist dynamics. These three assumptions are:

1) All commodities are sold at their value (i.e., the market does not impinge)
2) That he cannot deal with the fragmentation of surplus-value into rent, taxes, profit, interest, etc. In other words, he is anticipating dealing with rent, finance capitalism, etc in volume three of Capital.
3) As if capital is a closed system – there is no export/import in relation to other production areas. As Andy emphasized – it is a closed system.

Uno Kozo comes to mind when reading these necessary assumptions.

A few aspects that I think are important:

One is that Marx explicitly shifts now to an entire social process, a totality of social production, rather than an abstract meeting of individual labor and capital in the market. While it was prefigured in the preceding chapters, it becomes a necessary assumption when dealing with simple reproduction and extended accumulation. Important to note is that there has been a functional shift, from the historically specific concept of socially necessary labour time (and the value of the commodity bundle that constitutes subsistence) to a concept of a transhistorical labour-fund. This allows Marx to highlight how the worker comes into the capitalist dynamic twice:

First through productive consumption – i.e. the transfer of value of the means of production and the object of labour to the commodity – not to mention the addition of more value through the act of labour itself.
Secondly through individual consumption, the surplus value (capital) objectified in the commodity of the commodities produced which reproduces the necessary component of the M-C-M’ process, namely, labour.

Harvey has a great graph that explains this process in Lecture Ten that outlines the logic of this argument. I’ll quote from Capital itself where Marx lays this out:

“The labourer consumes in a two-told way. While producing he consumes by his labour the means of production, and converts them into products with a higher value than that of the capital advanced. This is his productive consumption. It is at the same time consumption of his labour-power by the capitalist who bought it. On the other hand, the labourer turns the money paid to him for his labour-power, into means of subsistence: this is his individual consumption. The labourer’s productive consumption, and his individual consumption, are therefore totally distinct. In the former, he acts as the motive power of capital, and belongs to the capitalist. In the latter, he belongs to himself, and performs his necessary vital functions outside the process of production. The result of the one is, that the capitalist lives; of the other, that the labourer lives. (from, top of 717 in the Fowkes translation)”

In other words, it is through the body of the laborer (Harvey’s term) that the relations of capitalist production are reproduced. This secondary (individual) consumption has to be understood at the social level, whereby labour, which is not directly involved in this labour process, is still “an appendage of capital as the lifeless instruments of labour are (719)” through their social consumption.

Chapter 24 is an extension of this argument, whereby Marx is answering how extended accumulation can occur (in contrast to various classical theories of expansion). For Marx, capital accumulation entails the transformation of surplus-value into capital (M-C-M’-C-M’-C-M’ etc) – perpetual investment, production, returns, reinvestment, etc. At some point, if we assume an imaginary original quantity of capital (Mill’s property-rights theory) then that would be consumed by capital at some point in the process, and the system would be reproducing and expanding itself only through the endless process of valorization in the production process, i.e. surplus value. To quote Marx’s summary:

“General result: by incorporating with itself the two primary creators of wealth, labour-power and the land, capital acquires a power of expansion that permits it to augment the elements of its accumulation beyond the limits apparently fixed by its own magnitude, or by the value and the mass of the means of production, already produced, in which it has its being. (From, page 752 in Fowkes)

Thus capital accumulation, as a temporal process, moves beyond any limit of its own objective magnitude. One paragraph in particular drives this the social and temporal ramifications home:

“All the powers of labour project themselves as powers of capital, just as all the value-forms of the commodity do as forms of money. With the growth of capital, the difference between the capital employed and the capital consumed increased. In other words, there is an increase in the value and the material mass of the instruments of labour…(756)”

Marx concludes the paragraph with the following argument:

“This free service of past labour, when it is seized on and filled with vitality by living labour, accumulates progressively as accumulation takes place on a larger and larger scale. (757)”

Again interesting to think about the creation of space in this process; the endless extension of infrastructure, which requires long-term capital outlays but which also compresses the production process between spaces. We are seeing a more detailed analysis of the spatio-temporal dynamics of capitalism once we shifted to the realm of social reproduction and accumulation.

Lastly, the principle of competition is important to the argument - refer to Andy's comments below.

On to Chapter 25……