June 28, 2009

Lying unsold on the shelves

Marx ends this chapter by saying "The circuit of productive capital is the form in which classical Political Economy examines the circular movement of industrial capital."

I interpreted this chapter as how individual, industrial capitalists view the circuit of capital. It is important to bear this in mind, as money takes on a different function than it did in the last chapter, which was viewed from the standpoint of circulation and the market.

But Marx clearly writes at one point that productive capital is indifferent to circulation. For instance: "For as soon as C' has been sold, been converted into money, it can be reconverted into the real factors of the labour process, and thus of the reproductive process. Whether C' is bought by the ultimate consumer or by a merchant for resale does not affect the case" (156). Once a commodity is expelled into circulation, the industrial/individual capitalist just does not care.

This indifference is detrimental to the capitalist, expressed most clearly in the form of crisis. Marx seems to presage his later remarks in volume III on the tendency of the falling rate of profit. For here, he simply limits himself to a few comments on how a focus on production to the exclusion of circulation and non-production factors (e.g. the market) can produce crisis. And crisis for Marx represents the most scathing critique of classical political economy's idea that supply and demand regulates the economy, or that production is always simple and premised upon the consumption and hence minimal existence of producers: "And this is something very different from production and even commodity production, which has for its end the existence of the producer. A replacement — commodity by commodity — thus contingent on the production of surplus-value is quite a different matter from the bare exchange of products brought about merely by means of money. But the economists take this matter as proof that no overproduction is possible" (155).

The exclusive focus on exchange-value over use-value results in capitalists producing without regard for external conditions. Products begin to lie unsold, prices are slashed, it snowballs and hence "crisis breaks out." It is interesting to note that in the early twentieth century, a debate existed over whether this phenomenon should be labeled underconsumption or overproduction. The stakes are pretty simple: one blames consumers, one blames producers. If you side with the Marxian stand that these things are determined by the logic of production and not a logic of consumption, then you probably wind up with some variation of the overproduction thesis. Again, Marx goes into this with more detail in Volume III.

For now it enough to ask why there is this chain effect of price slashing and crises. Why won't supply and demand correct itself? It is because, as producers, the capitalists' exclusive concern is not to correct an overall imbalance between production and consumption; their concern has to do with "the absolute necessity of transforming commodities into money." This is, simply, competition: "the constant enlargement of his capital becomes a condition for its preservation" (159).

It is important to note here NOT that historical reality is really so simple as to be determined by a single force or mechanism. It is rather to say that, among the several tendencies acting upon the economic and social, there is the tendency of industrial capitalists, and we need sufficient analytical rigor to separate and analyze that logic as one of many several logics overdetermining given historical circumstances.

This is related to the change of tone when discussing money. Money has only limited functions for the capitalist: as the end of the process (at which time, it expects money to do nothing) and at the beginning of the process (at which time, it converts the money into commodities like labor power and means of production). Looking at the latter as the primary function of money for the capitalist, money can do one of two things: convert itself into mp or L, OR wait until later to be converted. This is the hoarding function.

But is this money as converter/hoarde a different money than the money which circulated in chapter one? Nope. MATERIALLY, they are the same thing. They play different functions but remain the same, and hence we must be careful not to reify money as money outside of money for production, money for commodities, etc. etc.:
Here the money-function and the commodity-function are at the same time functions of commodity-capital, but solely because they are interconnected as forms of functions which industrial capital has to perform at the different stages of its circuit. It is therefore wrong to attempt to derive the specific properties and functions which characterise money as money and commodities as commodities from their quality as capital, and it is equally wrong to derive on the contrary the properties of productive capital from its mode of existence in means of production" (161).

But based on the interior logic of money and commodities, we do not see production. Money and commodities, reified as objects, cannot express the surplus-value and dead labor contained in them. They are only "money which breeds money"; money always appears as only M, and never M' or M+m.

By upholding the process behind money, as well as the implication that money is merely an evanescent form of capital, the reified and fetishized appearance suddenly changes. Marx even calls this a "critique": "The semblance of independence which the money-form of capital-value possesses in the first form of its circuit (the form of money-capital) disappears in this second form, which thus is a critique of Form I and reduces it to merely a special form" (154).

Other notes:

Page 144: A contrast between industrial/capitalist and agricultural production:
This part of value does not enter into the circulation. Thus values enter into the process of production which do not enter into the process of circulation. The same is true of that part of C' which is consumed by the capitalist in kind as part of the surplus-product. But this is insignificant for capitalist production. It deserves consideration, if at all, only in agriculture.
Page 151: A meditation on the temporality of the circuit (that each segment must be completed before moving onto the next) and the possibility that such temporality can be changed with the advent of loans and advances.

Page 153: Marx remarks on the presumed stability of the market, which is something outside the capitalists' control. Does this imply that the capitalists require the intervention of non-economic forces, such as the state, to regulate markets?

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