July 7, 2009

Towards Accumulation: Chapters 18 and 19.

Chapter 18: Introduction to Part III

I want to move through these preliminary chapters of Part III in order to get to Marx’s discussion of Simple Reproduction and Accumulation (Ch. 20 and 21). Chapter 18 begins with a great summation of the various components of Marx’s study thus far – showing how the forms in Part One and the processes (turnovers) of Part Two point to a much larger social process – approached here via the concepts of social capital. Following Marx’s mode of analysis in Volume I, wherein the commodity opened into a much larger social process of capitalist production, here Marx writes that:

“Just as the metamorphosis of the individual commodity is but one term in the series of metamorphoses of the commodity world as a whole, of commodity circulation, so the metamorphosis of the individual capital, its turnover, is a single term in the circuit of the social capital. (427-428)

The problem then becomes how to think this general social process of commodity production and circulation in a general social form. In this regard, Marx writes:

“the circuits of individual capitals are interlinked, they presuppose one another and condition one another, and it is precisely by being interlinked in this way that they constitute the movement of the total social capital. (429)”

Here, it almost seems as if Marx is saying the total social capital IS the sum of its individual parts, but as was noted multiple times before, the determinative factors are at the level of the social (socially necessary labour time, surplus-value being transcendent of an individual capital, etc.). This problem leads to a discussion of two points of the role of money in this interlinking of individual capitals: (1) provides the means in which each individual capital begins the process [appearing as a ‘prime mover’] and; (2) that this advanced money stands “in a different ratio to the productive capital that it sets in motion” (430) Regarding the first point, Marx makes an interesting point, one that brings us back to the question of logical explication and actually economic-description:

“Commodity production presupposes commodity circulation, and commodity circulation presupposes the representation of commodity in money, monetary circulation; the duplication of commodities into commodities and money is a law of the emergence of the product as a commodity. Capitalist commodity production, for its part, whether we consider it socially or individually, similarly presupposes capital in the money form, or money capital, both as the prime mover for each business when it first begins, and as a permanent driving force. Circulating capital, especially, presupposes the constantly repeated appearance, at short intervals, of the motor of money capital. (431)”

Now this obviously is a discussion of the internal logic of capital – thus not one of origins per se – though I think it can possibly be tied to our discussion of the problem of primitive accumulation at the end of Vol I. More importantly however, is that this accounts for the fetishization of money capital in political economy, wherein the effect of the process (augmented value) at the level of appearance (money), is taken as the prime mover. It is both the necessary means (capital advanced) and objective goal (profit) of the entire process.

Regarding the second point, that the advanced capital stands in a different ratio from the productive capital it set in motion, Marx time and time again reminds us that this process in no way is affected by the amount of money in circulation – in other words, money does not provide an ultimate limit (economically nor logically) to this process. The limit at the level of the individual capital is overcome, as we saw in Part II, by credit and joint-stock companies – which again open into a discussion of social capital determining the functioning of its constitutive individual processes. On this second point, see pp. 443-443.

Chapter 19: Former Presentations
Engels assembles here sections wherein Marx reviews how political economy has attempted to understand the general social process of capitalist accumulation. Once again, Marx begins by showing how Quesnay had correctly found the ‘source’ of accumulation within labour – albeit limited to agriculture, and how his terms (avances primitives and avances annuelles) being “fixed” and “circulating” capital in Smith. On a side note, Marx goes back and forth on Smith; both showing how he inadvertently pointed to essential processes of capitalist accumulation, but also reducing his work to simplistic – at one point exclaiming that the only advance effected by Smith’s translation of Quesnay’s terms was bringing in ‘capital.’

Rather than working through the extensive analysis of Smith’s understanding of accumulation, Marx’s critique seems to be that the three forms of ‘revenue’ in Smith: wages, profit and rent do not open into how accumulation can occur, and in this regard, Smith has to sneak in a fourth element – that of capital (see 439). To take one short example, Marx critiques Smith for overlooking that “if capital is to come in as revenue, then capital must previously have been spent. (440)” In his summary beginning on page 461 (concerning revenue and commodities), Marx shifts the discussion to his own analysis – arguing that the “substance of value is and remains nothing more than expended labour-power – labour independent of its particular useful character – and value production is nothing but the process of this expenditure. (462)”

Marx finishes by noting that Ricardo, Ramsay, Say, Proudhon, Storch, Sismondi, Mill and others were unable – for various reasons - to move beyond Smith’s conceptual system, and thus “Smith’s confusion” remains as “an article of orthodox belief in political economy. (467)” Now onto the Simple Reproduction and Accumulation…..

1 comment:

andy said...

I had the same reaction to the money section -- that is, it was another way for Marx to talk about primitive accumulation. I've consistently been marking references to precapitalist, pre-capital logic allusions in Marx's text. I think that the Primitive Accumulation chapter in Vol. 1 is really not satisfying but is instead ritually cited by people who are in a rush reviewing all of Marx's oeuvre all at once. A focused study of Marx's approach to Primitive Accumulation would really need to think about how it continually slips into his analysis throughout all three volumes, not to mention other manuscripts. Slippages, slippages...