Friday, November 07, 2014

This is the Modern World

1.  It is the "universalizing tendency" of capitalism that allows Marx to recognize, categorize, and critique its historical specificity-- or rather the historical specificity of the condition of labor that is capital's determinant.  That condition is that the laborers have no use for their own labor, that the labor has no value to them,  save its use in exchange, as value to be exchanged for the equivalent of the value of the means of subsistence.  So labor-time is compelled to present itself as exchange value, compensated for the time necessary for its reproduction, while the working time exceeds that of compensated time.

It's nice work if you can get it, and believe me, the bourgeoisie get it.  And they let us know how-- dispossessing the direct producers; destruction of the "natural economies," through any and all means, and any and all means include war, famine, plague, slavery, -- all of which are not ends in themselves but means to the beginning-- "free," detached, destitute, untethered labor power.  

These same means accompany capitalism throughout its development and in its dotage, when accumulation requires devaluation and devaluation requires driving, somehow, someway, the compensation of labor-power below its cost of reproduction.  Sometimes this occurs in a form unaltered from its antecedents;   sometimes in an altered form.   War is made manifest as civil war, or as terrorism practiced against indigenous populations; famine practiced as austerity, reducing the caloric intake of agricultural and urban producers; plague practiced in the breakdown, neglect, absence of infrastructure-- safe water, sanitation, public health services-- so essential to the reproduction of the working class.

The reproduction of the working class is less critical than expropriation of  labor-time. Dispossession  doesn't always, doesn't ever,  mean capital is able to access  all the "free labor" thus detachedIt does mean capital can aggrandize some of that labor power as wage-labor, and that some is powerful enough to drag other production into the process of exchange where value can obscure the origins of commodities.  Enter not the world, but the world market, of plantations, haciendas, prison labor, and slums:

When an industrial people producing on the foundation of capital, such as the English, e.g., exchange with the Chinese, and absorb value in the form of money and commodity from out of their production process, or rather absorb value by drawing the latter within the sphere of the circulation of their capital, then one sees right away that the Chinese do not therefore need to produce as capitalists.  (Grundrisse Notebook 7)

Value consumes "unfree" labor; wage-labor transfers unfree labor through the production of expanded value. 

2.   Capital is the condition of labor.  This is the material basis of production--  the means of subsistence aggrandized as private property, an equivalent for a proportion of which is exchanged with destitute, detached, dispossessed wage labor.    From this social condition of labor we get a mode of producing commodities, unlike, but capable of simultaneously absorbing and eroding, previous modes of producing commodities.

It's not, or more precisely, not only that the logic of Marx's analysis is "as a whole," hangs all together; it is that it hangs all together because Marx the logic is the apprehension of history and history is the telling, and retelling, of the social condition of labor. 

So..capitalism is not  just the amassing of wealth; the extensive and intensive networks of exploitation and commerce.  After all, wealth, commerce, markets, extensive trade networks have existed throughout history without yielding capitalism. And it is not the case that capitalism resides incipient within all other modes of production.  History is not destiny, and the domination of capital is not the necessary result of all modes of production  It is the form, the expression, the social relation by which the wealth is amassed.

The quantitatively greater, and faster, amassing of wealth; the extensive and intensive networks of exploitation and commerce are derived from the qualitative "nature" of value, and the laws of value production.  We move from the accruing of the surplus product of, by, and for exchange to the accruing of the means of production so that all production is surplus.  In this way the very category of surplus product disappears.  All product is now of by and for exchange; and appears as value

3. Marx takes a position in the "Brenner debate:"
 The existence of domestic handicrafts and manufacture as an ancillary pursuit to agriculture, which forms the basis, is the condition for the mode of production on which this natural economy is based n European antiquity and the Middle Ages, as still today in the Indian village communities where the traditional organization has not yet been destroyed. The capitalist mode of production completely abolishes this connection; a process can can be studied on a large scale particularly during the last third of the 18th century in England. People who had grown up in more or less semi-feudal societies, such as Herrenschwand, for example still consider this separation of agriculture and manufacture as a foolhardy social venture, an incomprehensibly risky mode of existence at the end of the 18th century. And even in those agricultural economies of ancient times which show most analogy with the capitalist rural economy, Carthage and Rome, the similarity is more with a plantation economy that with the form truly corresponding to the capitalist mode of production. [underscore added] A formal analogy, though one which proves to be completely deceptive in all essential points as soon as the capitalist mode of production is understood– even if not for Herr Mommsen, who discovers the capitalist mode of production in every monetary economy– such a formal analogy is to be found nowhere in mainland Italy in ancient time, but only perhaps in Sicily, since this served as an agricultural tributary for Rome, its agriculture being essentially designed for export. Here one can find farmers in the modern sense. (Capital, Volume 3)
The careful reader will note that while Marx refers to the "natural economy," nowhere does he refer to "simple commodity production" or a "simple commodity producing economy."  No such animal ever existed.   

Unique to capital is its amassing of  labor-time as/in values through the continuous diminution of the labor power necessary for the reproduction of the values themselves.  Capital reproduces itself, reproduces its classes through the relative expulsion of living labor-time from the production process.  Unique to capital is this compulsion to reduce the necessary labor-time required from the reproduction of commodities, including the labor commodity.  This is what accounts and amounts for/to capital's need for the productivity of labor. 

Again Marx "takes" his position on the "Brenner debate:"
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.  (Economic Manuscripts, Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 2)

Now, by this time we should know that when when Marx is writing about "productivity"-- hell, when Marx is writing about anything, he is not simply referring to a a "quantity"-- a technical relation, but a social relation, or more precisely and particularly in periods of transition, emergence, revolution, the interpenetration of the technical means and the social ends.  

The productivity to which Marx refers is precisely an economic compulsion to expand  production as the production of values through a disproportional reduction in the necessary labor so employed.  As is the case with all social compulsions, "extra-economic" forces, bodies of armed men enabled by "laws," actualize the economics.

It is just that simple.  And complex. While capitalism can absorb and find fuel in the production of non-capitalist modes; while capitalism can, to a high degree support and integrate such modes, it does so as a moment in its own reproduction, thus undermining these modes. 

5.  Uneven and combined development is the vital extension of and contribution to Marx's  critique of capitalism.  As a theory, it too takes its starting point as the material basis of production.  As a practice, we get permanent revolution-- a telescoping, compression of the "tasks" of revolution such that social development of/and from any particular economic organization is inseparable from the general emancipation of social labor.    The material basis cuts both ways: "development" cannot be abstracted from the emancipation of labor; no general emancipation of labor is possible within the boundaries, the limits of any "single" economy.

The material basis for the theory of uneven and combined development is that capitalist relations do not arise from the non-capitalist relations, particularly the agricultural relations of a "backward" country.  Capitalism does not "evolve" from the "feudal" or "semi-feudal" or "quasi-feudal" relations of the  "backward" areas.  Capitalism is introduced, modestly or massively, and confronts not "incipient native capitalism" as its obstacle, but those non-capitalist forms of appropriation as well as the persistence of the "natural economy," subsistence production and the consequent lower productivity of agriculture.   That capital in its "advanced" condition adapts, and adapts to, these limits to its own "complete" expression; to its expansion of "free"-- that is labor power as  value-producing value-- wage-labor is an index to the limit of capital itself.  The determinant of value production, the organization of wage-labor, the organization of the class of wage-laborers is transformed first into the limitation of capitalist production before it emerges as capital's negation.

It is evident in uneven and combined development, whether it be that of the US slave south to the civil war,  or the sharecropper-plantation system after the defeat of Radical Reconstruction; or the land tenure relationships in Mehmet Ali's Egypt; or the haciendas of Mexico in the 19th and  20th centuries, that these specific forms do not reproduce themselves as capitalist; do not reproduce the social condition of labor under capitalism; do not, on their own, "evolve" "naturally" into that "modern" "developed" capitalism; and thus cannot produce the negation of capital-- then, or now.  That capitalism has developed as it indeed has developed, unevenly and in "combination," is the proof that capitalism did  develop as it did.  The circuit of capital is never uniform but always deformed...until it is abolished.

November 7, 2014

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