July 3, 2009

Combined and uneven development and Total Social Capital

I read Max's post on part one several months ago and remembered that he argued "all three circuits come together in the fourth chapter." And while that is true on some level -- analytically, at least -- I feel like the short chapter three on commodity capital is really the key to understanding the three circuits.

I want to do some theoretical speculation in this post. I want to avoid redundant summarization but I feel like chapter three is too important not to summarize at least a bit. If you're uninterested in summarization, skip to the next part.

1. Why is third figure, the circulation of commodity capital, distinct from figures I and II (money and productive capital)?

Marx is constantly differentiating figure III from I and II, and I started numbering all the different ways he does so. Ultimately, they are related but heuristically we can see perhaps four:
a) "First, in this case the total circulation with its two antithetical phases opens the circuit, while in the Form I the circulation is interrupted by the process of production and in Form II the total circulation with its two complementary phases appears merely as a means of effecting the process of reproduction and therefore constitutes the movement mediating between P ... P."
I take this to mean that C' is caught between P and M where P and M, in theory, could end at P and M without further reproduction.
b) "Secondly, when circuits I and II are repeated, even if the final points M' and P' form the starting-points of the renewed circuit, the form in which M' and P' were produced disappears."
This is pretty self-explanatory. But it requires a bit more of an understanding of why P and M are inward-looking circuits, which I'll try to explain a bit more below.
c) "As commodity-capital it is always two-fold. From the point of view of use-value it is the product, in the present case yarn, of the functioning of P whose elements L and MP, coming as commodities from the sphere of circulation, have functioned only as factors in the creation of this product. "
This is not a big one, but I guess you could think "M = x-value" and "P=u-value" and C combines both x and u-values.
d) "C is presupposed twice outside the circuit. The first time in the circuit C' — M' — C { L+MP . This C, so far as it consists of MP, is commodity in the hands of the seller; it is itself commodity-capital, so far as it is the product of a capitalist process of production; and even if it is not, it appears as commodity-capital in the hands of the merchant. The second time, in the second c of c — m — c, which must likewise be at hand as a commodity so that it can be bought."
This is not so much a logical distinction as it is a deeper theoretical implication emanating from the first two. So let's talk about that a bit.

2. Why is the circulation of commodity capital critical, and what is total social capital?

In theory, the circuits M and P could die with the second M or second P. That actually is too psychologizing; rather, one must emphasize that with M and P, the circulations are isolated from one another. As Marx says, P-P' implies that production is the "purpose of the process." M-M' is at least more honest in implying that valorization is the purpose, but it fails to take into account the whole circuit of P.

Think of it this way. If you only dealt with money, as most of us do, we could presume that zero production occurs, but logically we know it happens somewhere. But we just can't see it. If we only dealt in production, say as workers who never have a chance to personally spend the money we earn, we would know that commodity transactions occur, but we would have no idea how it happens.

In other words, M and P circuits represent standpoints in the total circuit that need to be connected, and C is the best way to connect them.

One really easy way to think about this is to look closely at the total process:

Figure I: M - C' - P - C'' - M'
Figure II: P - C' - M - C'' - P
Figure III: C' - M - C - P - C''

For every M or P, C appears three times! C is always in transition between M or P, always in anticipation to be valorized, always the mediator between two isolated standpoints. C does all the traveling.

I think we can argue that unlike M or P, C is outward looking beyond individual capital circuits in two ways.

A) Temporally. Every C is always in anticipation of future realization in money, and it always contains valorization from the past. It implies a history that is non-existent in P and M circuits.

B) Spatially. The quote I use to demonstrate point d) above speaks to this. From the standpoint of individual commodity capital, other commodity capitals must exist in order to enter as a capital to be bought (labor-power and means of production, where do these workers come from? who made these machines for them to use? These questions must be answered); and they must come in the form of commodities to be bought by the individual capitalist for its individual consumption. Who feeds workers, what keeps them reproducing?

This movement outwards thus implies a key concept which, I believe, symbolically moves Volume II beyond the abstract, individual focus of production: total social capital. What is total social capital?
But just because the circuit C' ... C' presupposes within its sphere the existence of other industrial capital in the form of C (equal to L + MP) — and MP comprises diverse other capitals, in our case for instance machinery, coal, oil, etc. — it clamours to be considered not only as the general form of the circuit, i.e., not only as a social form in which every single industrial capital (except when first invested) can be studied, hence not merely as a form of movement common to all individual industrial capitals, but simultaneously also as a form of movement of the sum of the individual capitals, consequently of the aggregate capital [translated also as "total social capital"] of the capitalist class, a movement in which that of each individual industrial capital appears as only a partial movement which intermingles with the other movements and is necessitated by them.
TSC is thus contrasted to particular, individual capitals. It is the regulatory framework within which the accumulation of capital occurs. What is the significance of this?

3. Combined and Uneven Development

To return to my previous post about Geoff Eley, and to which Max responded, I think the question about how slavery and non-wage labor fits into the histories of capitalism is best answered by distinguishing between individual and total social capital. Consider the Jairus Banaji article which argues that unfree labor has been, contra most Eurocentric and developmentalist accounts, part of the history of capital accumulation. The reason people say "capitalism as a system can't perform underneath a regime of slavery" stems from a conceptual conflation of individual with TSC:
Regarding the related issue of whether capital can exploit workers who are truly unfree (who represent bondage in Kant’s sense), the major problem with Brass’s way of handling this thesis, apart from his definition of unfree labour, is that the needs of individual and social capital are conflated throughout his argument. Brass conceives capitalism entirely from the standpoint of individual capital, ignoring the fact that the logic that regulates capitalist economy is, necessarily, that of the total social capital. Thus, the real issue of theory here is whether we can sensibly visualise the accumulation of capital being founded on unfree labour (in the strict sense just noted) at the level of the expansion of the total social capital. And the obvious res pons e is , no, since the mobility of labour is essential to the mechanism of capital at this level. (80)
Banaji could have written this paragraph more easily, so allow me to try to translate: Yes, of course slavery cannot function as the underlying framework for total social capital. Total social capital is still premised upon free (as in, free to move; not free to decide) labor. But given that total social capital, there is always the possibility of the entrance from the outside of commodities produced in non-free labor situations. Hence, slave-produced cotton on the world market in competition with cotton produced under superficially free conditions. Banaji says as much on the next page:
Thus the overworking of slaves in the Southern states of the American Union was, [Marx] tells us in Volume I, a question of the ‘production of surplus-value itself ’.58 In the Grundrisse, he refers to ‘[t]he fact that we now not only call the plantation owners in America capitalists, but that they are capitalists’ 59 and implies that these ‘anomalous’ forms of capitalist enterprise could exist because capitalism as a whole was based on free labour. (My interpretation of this is: the American slave owners are capitalists because they are part of the total social capital.) In Theories of Surplus Value, he writes that the ‘business in which slaves are used in conducted by capitalists’, though this is qualified by saying that here the capitalist mode of production ‘exists only in a formal sense’.60 Finally, in Volume III of Capital, he writes, ‘Where the capitalist conception prevails, as on the American plantations, this entire surplus-value is conceived as profit’,61 and, in Volume II, slaves are described as ‘fixed capital’. (81)

Now, this raises the conceptual question of how one defines what is TSC and what is merely one particular individual capital within the TSC. Doesn't this give rise to homogenization, precisely when the concept of TSC vs. individual capital seems to explain how a diversity of production regimes can co-exist? This is an important question.

One way I've resolved this in my head is to rely upon a statement from one of the champions of the concept of uneven and combined development, Ernest Mandel:
There is only one basic driving force which compels capital in general to step up capital accumulation, extraction of surplus value and exploitation of labour, and feverishly to look for profits, over and above average profit: this is competition.
What unites slave and free cotton is nothing but the competition between the two on the world market. To the extent that the average profit against which an individual capital must exceed is determined by the most advanced techniques, say industrial production, then all other modes of production are thus placed into the framework of industrial production as the regulator of total social capital. Once an industry becomes totally uncompetitive, then it withdraws or goes bankrupt, in either case it no longer interacts with the other individual capitals in the circulation of the commodity circuit.

Hints at the existence of uneven and combined development, i.e. the competition between commodities produced under radically different conditions, can be found in chapter four:
Within its process of circulation, in which industrial capital functions either as money or as commodities, the circuit of industrial capital, whether as money-capital or as commodity-capital, crosses the commodity circulation of the most diverse modes of social production, so far as they produce commodities. No matter whether commodities are the output of production based on slavery, of peasants (Chinese, Indian ryots). of communes (Dutch East Indies), of state enterprise (such as existed in former epochs of Russian history on the basis of serfdom) or of half-savage hunting tribes, etc. — as commodities and money they come face to face with the money and commodities in which the industrial capital presents itself and enter as much into its circuit as into that of the surplus-value borne in the commodity-capital, provided the surplus-value is spent as revenue; hence they enter in both branches of circulation of commodity-capital. The character of the process of production from which they originate is immaterial. They function as commodities in the market, and as commodities they enter into the circuit of industrial capital as well as into the circulation of the surplus-value incorporated in it. It is therefore the universal character of the origin of the commodities [also translated as: "characterized by the many-sided character of its origins], the existence of the market as world-market, which distinguishes the process of circulation of industrial capital.
Marx's point is here is not that they follow the same conditions of production but rather that they compete. They compete as commodity capital; hence, the unity of total social capital must be thought at the level of the commodity.

4. Other thoughts on Chapter Four.

Sorry this post is huge. There is not a lot to add from this chapter since I think the main points are covered in Chapter Three.

It is noteworthy that Marx is constantly talking about how the circulation and production processes are interrupted and not internally connected. At one point, Marx writes that the continuity of individual capitals is interrupted on three levels: their quantities, division of portions (I assume how they are invested, consumed and utilized differently) and temporal variations (seasonal work, etc.). Thus Marx is setting the stage for crisis theory, although he will not go into the details yet. He simply points out there is no reason for the market to work. Disequilibrium, not equilibrium, should be the presumed state of affairs.

Near the end, Marx also begs the question of where laborers come from, how the world market has actually worked outside of abstract models (the question of histories).

To cap off this post, I thought I would highlight this line:
As a matter of fact capitalist production is commodity production as the general form of production. But it is so and becomes so more and more in the course of its development only because labour itself appears here as a commodity, because the labourer sells his labour, that is, the function of his labour-power, and our assumption is that he sells it at its value, determined by its cost of reproduction. To the extent that labour becomes wage-labour, the producer becomes an industrial capitalist. For this reason capitalist production (and hence also commodity production) does not reach its full scope until the direct agricultural producer becomes a wage-labourer.
One could interpret this to say "capitalism is ONLY when wage-labor appears and the divorce between labor and the means of production are complete." But could one interpret the line "full scope" to suggest that there is such a thing as capitalist production as a less than full scope? The semiproletarianization of some in a system (a total social capital) determined by the real subsumption and proletarianization of others?

1 comment:

Max said...

Andy -
A few things come to mind . Firstly, the circuits come together in chapter four since total social capital necessarily requires all three forms (money and productive included) or it would not exist. But of course the commodity capital circuit is the most important since it is the only circuit which indicates prior augmentation (and thus opens into a larger process outside of its own introverted movement). Thus it seems that its emphasis is in its explicatory power (thus logically) rather than economic-historical, since, as has been argued, commodities and commodity production has always existed.

But the qualitative factor (both historically and analytically) is that commodification of labour. This is where we now run into both an epistemological and historical problem when we bring in Marx's fundamental claim that capital is constituted when, and only when, wage-labour (commodified labour) becomes the general form of social production, which Marx argues in Vol I - and which you point to in the end of your posting here. This thus poses the problem of limits - either external to capitalism as a social form (via Luxemburg) or as differential process within a single formation. For example, do we have to think of a total system, a world system, within the conceptual rubric of "capitalism" as a sort of 'degree' or ratio of commodified labour (some places yes, other places no - thus what makes this 'capitalism' apart from its relationality to other forms?); otherwise the mediation of the concept of capitalism - one that allows for comparison based on unevenness - doesn't have any substance. Which does not entail thinking this through 'creative destruction' of capitalism (condensation of time/space, fluctuations of the built environment, poverty differentials, etc.) - since this already assumes a containment within, or an internal process to, capitalism. Rather, it entails how we can even bring areas and or processes, either synchronically or historically, into relation with each other under the term "capitalism".

Let's discuss today and see what's at stake in this problem......