July 12, 2009

For the sake of their blue eyes

With these final two chapters in part one, I felt like Marx was really setting down the distinctions between the concerns of Volumes II and III, distinct from Volume I. By introducing circulation, Marx introduces two elements that, for simplicity's sake, were left suspended in his consideration of production in the first volume: time and the negotiation/struggle of selling goods. At the risk of getting ahead of myself, it seems to me that in the first volume, Marx's main goal is to enact a critique of the production sphere itself. You could call this a critique of exploitation, an explanation of his theory of value, an emphasis on production at the heart of capital economies. Whatever it is, however, it falls short of demonstrating how multiple individual capitals interact. When expanded to the level of total social capital, however, Marx's critique centers around the crisis-ridden character of capital. It seems to me that these chapters on circulation time and circulation costs are the return of the real, the concrete, in short, use-value. Because production and circulation do not, historically, run smoothly like in the models of individual capital sketched out in Volume I, all sorts of irregular interruptions can always occur, cascade and snowball into larger cyclical crises. For the reader unfamiliar with this larger theoretical trajectory, these two chapters must seem pretty boring. But from the standpoint of figuring out the categories of how to maximize valorization and then how individual capitalists are prone to errors, these chapters are important contributions to the overall flow of the argument.

Chapter Five in a few bullet points:
  • (200): Production time includes both "the period of the labour process" as well as "periodic interruptions." Thus it can be broken down into: "1) the time during which they function as means of production, hence serve in the productive process; 2) the stops during which the process of production, and thus the functioning of the means of production embodied in it, are interrupted; 3) the time during which they are held in readiness as prerequisites of that process, hence already represent productive capital but have not yet entered into the process of production."
  • (201): The latent state of production time is often due to the natural, material properties of the product: "corn that is sown, wine that ferments in the cellar." In other words, use-value.
  • Interruptions are counted as a loss: "normal interruptions of the overall production process ... produce neither value nor surplus-value. Hence the drive towards night work."
  • (202): A distinction between regular pauses (night time, weekends) and irregular interruptions (crises, embargoes). The former can still be counted towards a commodity's value. The latter adds no surplus-value.
  • (203): The need for individual capitalists to employ merchants and stocks to minimize time spent on sales and circulation: "The more the metamorphoses of circulation of a certain capital are only ideal, i.e., the more the time of circulation is equal to zero, or approaches zero, the more does capital function, the more does its productivity and the self-expansion of its value increase. For instance, if a capitalist executes an order by the terms of which he receives payment on delivery of the product, and if this payment is made in his own means of production, the time of circulation approaches zero."
  • (205): Interesting line that makes my head hurt: "There is a difference between C — M and M — C which has nothing to do with the difference in forms of commodities and money but arises from the capitalist character of production. Intrinsically both C — M and M — C are mere conversions of given values from one form into another. But C' — M' is at the same time a realisation of the surplus-value contained in C'. M — C however is not. Hence selling is more important than buying. Under normal conditions M — C is an act necessary for the self-expansion of the value expressed in M, but it is not a realisation of surplus-value; it is the introduction to its production, not an afterword."
  • (206): Spoiling is the absolute limit of a commodity's value (the revenge of use-value).
  • The need for markets and urban centers: to reduce selling time.
Chapter Six

  • (208): An interesting analogy of labor to latent heat in chemistry. Labor produces potential value, which must still be realized in the sale. Doesn't this type of argumentation veer towards a "circulation is more important" than production type of thinking? But Marx has told us in the last chapter that in fact both are key. Nonetheless, a shift away from Volume I, where Marx wouldn't be caught dead talking about circulation on the same level of production.
  • (209): The merchant enters as perhaps the first, delineated "nonproductive" worker in Marx's universe: "a man who sells his labour. He expends his labour-power and labour-time in the operations C — M and M — C. And he makes his living that way, just as another does by spinning or making pills. He performs a necessary function, because the process of reproduction itself include unproductive functions. He works as well as the next man, but intrinsically his labour creates neither value nor product." Later, Marx will refer to lawyers and doctors, too, in this category of nonproductive workers.
  • (211): Great line comparing the function of the merchant to a machine: "It is as though one part of the product were transformed into a machine which buys and sells the rest of the product. This machine brings about a reduction of the product. It does not participate in the productive process, although it can diminish the labour-power, etc., spent on circulation. It constitutes merely a part of the costs of circulation."
  • Next, Marx discusses bookkeeping as a necessary mental reflection of the entire circulation process. I'm not sure what Marx is suggesting here. It is an interesting excursion into the mind of his capitalists, as Marx otherwise seems loathe to speculate about what the inside of his characters' head looks like. Unlike a merchant, which has only a one-dimensional role in the economy, bookkeeping is necessary and social, underpining the function of total social capital (212). But hasn't Marx already made the case for why merchants are also necessary in large, sprawling economies? I just don't understand the distinction he wants to make between necessary and unnecessary unproductive labor.
Stock Formation

Have to admit, I loved this section. Not sure why.
  • (214): In this key, beginning introduction, Marx has complicated things greatly. He tells us that while stock costs do not add use-value, they add value added to costs. Further, while keeping stocks does nothing from the social standpoint, it still adds value to the commodities of individual capitals. So here we have suggestions that commodities may be sold at values detached from their actual use-value. That is: a hammer may cost $2 because of how useful it is, but if you add the value of keeping it in stock, it could sell for $3.50. This also asserts the primacy of labor-time as the measure of value, as opposed to use-value.
  • Marx seems to suggest a key difference between individual capital and total social capital. Where "from the social point of view" stock is just an "unproductive expenditure of labor," individual capitalists can still profit by charging more money for the hammer. Marx is suggesting there isn't more material wealth - more things - produced by stock, so there is less collective total social capital. Is he? That interpretation would see TSC as composed of material wealth, not value; of use-value, not exchange-value. That would deviate from previous understandings of TSC as nothing but the sums of value of individual capital. Hmm, maybe there is a tendency to see TSC as a drive towards producing material wealth and to see individual capitals as one of value alone.
  • (215): The key concept and the contradiction of stock formation: because irregular supplies would hurt the ability of capitalists to realize value, keeping a smooth flow is paramount. For this reason, an unproductive activity is key to the realization of productive labor: "The quicker the sale is effected the more smoothly runs the process of reproduction. Delay in the form of conversion of C' — M' impedes the real exchange of matter which must take place in the circuit of capital, as well as its further functioning as productive capital. On the other hand, so far as M — C is concerned, the constant presence of commodities in the market, commodity-supply, appears as a condition of the flow of the process of reproduction and of the investment of new or additional capital."
  • (218): A key footnote about cash crop economies suffering crises in the nineteenth century (hmm...).
  • (217-221): Marx refutes Lalor's argument that with the development of capitalism, stocks declined. Over four pages, Marx elucidates how this is just an optical illusion that doesn't see how the quantity of stocks sitting in any one place has been reduced, while the speed, intensity and geographic scope of commodity circulation has skyrocketed such that the overall amounts of commodities in circulation have increased. They simply are no longer kept in the same simple commodity stock form (they are instead more likely to be in forms of productive capital or the individual consumption fund).
  • A great many historical changes are implicated and quickly reviewed by Marx here, especially on pages 219 to 220: increased intensity of production (machinery); speed and cheapness of transfer (transportation and communication); regular flow of money in the face of irregular conversion of capital (the credit system); and the diversification of raw material production (cash crop economies in agrarian societies).
  • (221): Marx suggests there is a shift from producing for consumption (supply and demand) towards one of simply "produce, dammit!" "With the development of capitalist production, the scale of production is determined less and less by the direct demand for the product and more and more by the amount of capital available in the hands of the individual capitalist, by the urge of self-expansion inherent in his capital and by the need of continuity and expansion of the process of production."
  • With this shift, an inversion of priorities has taken place. With the emphasis on smooth flow of operations, merchants and capitalists' number one enemy was scarcity, so hoarding stocks was imperative for profit. With scarcity less of a threat, capitalists now focus upon newness, both in the sense of perishable commodities and new technology. Hoarding stock thus loses its appeal.
  • (223): Signs of crisis begin to emerge again. One sign emerges in Marx's constant invocation of continual supplies as the imperative facing all capitalists. I kept thinking, why exactly is a constant supply so important? Is there something else besides the danger of selling out one's own product? I suppose that today, selling out one's product is not such a big danger. It happens all the time at the bakeries and stores here (in Tokyo) that replenish stocks from scratch daily. In an earlier time, I'm sure that the atmosphere of unregulated competition made such moments much more dire: "Constancy and continuity of the process of circulation, and therefore of the process of reproduction, which includes the process of circulation, are safeguarded only by the formation of such supplies." Anyway, the point is that there is an unpredictable encounter between what the capitalist has and what the consumer wants to buy. The model of equilibrium is already put into question.
  • (224): The second dimension of crisis is, of course, overproduction. This arises in Marx's distinction between voluntary and involuntary stock. Involuntary indicates a capitalist has too many commodities because it just cannot find the consumers to take them off its hands. Uh-oh. And with the mystification of the credit system ("give me a loan on this car even though I don't have a job") and the general ambiguity in appearance between an intentional and unintentional stock ("no, see, these toys are going to sell any day now, just you wait"), overproduction crises can compound and multiply pretty quickly.
  • (225): the three costs of stock formation are: "The costs of supply formation consist: 1) of a quantitative diminution of the mass of the products (for instance in the case of a flour supply; 2) of a deterioration of quality; 3) of the materialised and living labour required for the preservation of the supply."
The Transport Industry

  • Here Marx concludes that transportation, like merchants, are a necessary loss to surplus-value that in the end helps capitalists realize more value out of their commodities. Interestingly, Marx delineates two dimensions of the transportation sector. On the one hand, it is part of production (construction of railroads, boats, etc.) and is also a wing of circulation (229). Obviously, this is a key section for future reference in thinking about the geographical implications of capital accumulation.
  • To end this post, I thought I'd include this great line: "A house that is sold by A to B circulates as a commodity, but it does not get up and walk" (226).

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