Sunday, July 06, 2014

Function at the (con)Junction

1.   It is, Marx writes in his introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, that conflict between the means of production and the relations of production that inaugurates the revolutionary struggle.  The struggle itself is for a more complete, thorough, productive, satisfying, emancipatory social organization of labor.  Development as a "thing," as economic growth, increasing  industrial output, expanded GDP, etc.  is precisely not and precisely never the object nor the subject of revolution.  Development of things, "objective forces," is not the subject of history.  History as a "thing" has no purpose.  Development of relations is the subject and the "purpose." Human labor does quite clearly have  a purpose and that is the satisfaction and the creation of  needs.  Once set in motion as a social process, human labor seeks its own emancipation.

Development is not, ipso facto, emancipatory.  At best, and at most, it is the substrate upon which the emancipation of labor rests. Not at its best, development is an ideological category, another fetish whereby power over the needs of humans is assigned to an object when if fact that power is but a product of the already existing incomplete, unproductive constraining, destructive unfree relations surrounding human labor.

In political struggle, "development" is used to smother the revolutionary impulse for the emancipation of labor  by subordinating the condition of that labor, class, to the "nation," the "people,"-- to the improvement of the conditions for exploitation.  It is no wonder that such "revolutions" however much or little they "rip up" the ground of the previous regimes, disintegrate; that all such revolutions become imitators of, and enforcers for, the already "developed" relations of capital. 

2.  The mode of production is that specific, essential, determining, condition of labor by which the society reproduces itself; which is to say, how it reproduces the classes that make up the conditions of labor and that give the society life, however nasty, brutish and overlong that life might be.

Capital compresses and composes the conflict between labor-- that social impulse to satisfaction-- and the condition of labor-- the subordination of satisfaction to the accumulation of value.  Labor has purpose, wage-labor as the condition of labor has the purpose of value expanding value.   

Ownership of the instruments of production, the property of capital, exist as value only to the degree that the value can be captured and transferred by wage-labor to the expanded value of commodity production.   Once the increment of value appreciation begins to decline, that property, that ownership of those instruments, becomes so much dead weight. 

The conflict that Marx identifies as that of the means with the relations of production is in fact the conflict between labor and the condition of labor; between the labor process and the valorization process; between the satisfaction and creation of needs and the accumulation of value.  The conflict materializes itself "economically" as a decline in value; as loss; as a reduction in profit.  This disturbance in accumulation is in fact a disturbance in the ability of capital to reproduce the classes that give it life.  Labor is plentiful; it cannot be employed.  Labor is "tight;" there is not enough stripped, destitute labor while unemployment, shadow employment, marginal employment, temporary employment are everywhere.  Bring in the migrants, the women, the children to be worked to death.  Get rid of the "restrictive" labor laws, unions, regulations that constrain the expansion of capital's greatest achievement, the working poor.

All in all, the accumulation of capital means the accumulated capital cannot exploit the supplies of labor intensively enough to offset the very decline in the rate of accumulation inherent in the process.

3.  At the same time as capital runs up against the limits of its own reproduction, of its ownership, of its property-- when it cannot reproduce the classes of its own existence within its own relations of production-- it runs up against the constraints of other relations of property; of those relations that exist, and persist, even as capital expands to dominate the markets for commodity exchanges. When, after all, capital's own property relations limit its power to reproduce the wage-relation, the class of bourgeoisie and the class of the proletariat; those same limits impede capital's ability to transform all other property, all other production relations, in its own image.

4.    "A definite stage in the development of agriculture whether in the country concerned or in other countries forms the basis for the development of capital.” -Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Part 1.

He wasn't kidding.  The development of a level of productivity in agriculture,  is essential to allow, to create, the expulsion of the laborer from 1) providing for its own direct subsistence and 2) from the productive process; in this case the dispossession of the producer from his own property, from providing directly for subsistence, creates a condition of labor as value producing and as a cost of production to be reduced in the process of accumulation

The level of productivity  is not, and is never solely the result of an application of technology to cultivation.  It is driven, literally, by a compelling social forces-- that 1) the subsistence of the producer is dependent upon exchanging his/her labor power for a value that is equivalent, more and less, to the cost of keeping bodies and souls together 2) that the owners of the product have no direct use for the product and need to exchange all the product in order to claim a portion of surplus value that is embedded within the mass of all commodities brought to market.

As capitalism confronts that constraint which is itself, the confrontation is expressed in an accommodation to the "pre-capitalist" "non-capitalist" conditions of agricultural production.  The hacienda, the plantation, the great house, the latifundia, all with their co-existing villages, pueblos, share-croppers, tenants, debt peonage, slavery, near slavery, slavery, communes are incorporated in and by commercial exchange.  In Brazil. Bolivia. China. Ecuador. Egypt. Mexico. Philippines. But such exchange is not, does not create, that compelling social force, the need for accumulation; the necessity for transforming the condition of labor.  The lack of that compulsion is then expressed is lower agricultural productivity, in persistent subsistence, and below-subsistence direct production. In Brazil, Bolivia, China, Ecuador, Egypt, Mexico, Philippines-- to name just a few.

This moment of grand "calcification" was reached by capitalism shortly after the US Civil War, and is marked by the long and ugly retreat from "Radical" Reconstruction.  The subtext, latent content, of the Civil War was the condition of black labor, and the prospects for its emancipation.  Such emancipation could not be realized by and within the constraints of "free soil" farming.  There would be no re-creation of yeoman farming in the South.  There could be no process of differentiation among small independent farmers based on rates and masses of accumulation.  Southern property, plantation property, had to be redeemed, and the redemption was in the sacrifice of black labor.

5. " No matter whether a commodity is the product of slavery, of peasants (Chinese, Indian ryots), of communes (Dutch East Indies), or of stated enterprise (such as existed in former epochs of Russian history on the basis of serfdom), or of half-savage hunting tribes, etc., commodities and money of such modes of production, when coming in contact with commodities and money representing industrial capital, enter as much into its rotation as into that of surplus values embodied in commodity-capital.  The character of the process of production from which they emanate is immaterial.  They perform the function of commodities on the market, and enter into the cycles of industrial capital as well as into those of the surplus-value carried in it.  It is the universal character of the commodities, the world character of the market, which distinguishes the process of the rotation of the industrial capital. [Marx-- Capital Volume 2, Chapter IV, "The Three Diagrams of the Process of Circulation"]

This "ecumenical" quality, which allows industrial capital to absorb the commodities from all modes of production by measuring them as values creates an  evolutionary dead end for an aspiring bourgeoisie emerging from the relations of exchange. And for the revolutionists emerging in opposition. 

 With agricultural productivity impeded by the hacienda, and the commune; with labor fixed to the land, the domestic market for industrial production atrophies in its very gestation. 

Land reforms, as such, are organized around creating a class of small-property holders; a parody of the myth of a self-differentiating peasantry as the basis for capitalist agriculture.  It wasn't then, and it cannot be now.

The significance of capital encountering the limits of value production is that as a reaction, "productivity" of things, of the "forces of production," is advanced against the emancipation of labor.  Capital is thereby preserved, sustained.

July 6, 2014


  1. Ronnie Mund3:21 AM

    I've noticed that you sometimes show up at Louis Proyect's blog to interject some sense. I don't know if you've seen his recent post on value but it's so full of shit it smells worse than the buffalo pen at the Bronx zoo. As one of the few bloggers who understands value it would be great if you took his post down either in a comment on his blog or a post here. Cheers comrade!

    1. Yep. Every once in awhile. I did see it, and did offer a bit of clarification. Think it's so appropriate that someone like Proyect finds inspiration in somebody like Cockshott.