Fragments From A Notebook on Marx’s Political Economy

Marx. Capital, Volume 1. Penguin Edition, 1976. (Translated by Ben Fowkes)

[extra to text]

[Readers must study the full quote relating to each comment. [………………] indicates missing middle part of quotation]

1. “Objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of the private labour of individuals who work independently of each other. […………………………………] ; so that their character as values has already to be taken into consideration during production”

(pp.165-166, Chapter 1, section 4, The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret)

Exchange is absolutely fundamental to the continued existence of commodity production. We must move as quickly as possible to the elimination of exchange and its replacement with a universal system of accounted distribution founded upon the socialist principles of need, quality, human welfare, ecological considerations and sustainability, etc. A socialist accountancy of labour time directed towards the realisation of these needs. The uncoupling of production and distribution from exchange will serve to undermine commodity production itself. From free-market zones to market-free zones.

The abolition, or rather phasing out, of exchange which involves “opposing the products of different forms of labour with each other on the basis of equality” necessarily means the phasing out of the market system. Under capitalist commodity production, the products of private labour only become commodities at that point when they enter circulation and receive the stamp of social general labour in their exchange relations with other commodities. This is the point at which “the equalisation of the most different kinds of labour can be the result only of an abstraction from their inequalities, or reducing them to their common denomination, viz., the expenditure of human labour-power or human labour in the abstract….only exchange brings about this reduction”. [Marx, Value : Studies by Karl Marx, New Park Publications, 1976, pp.5-6]. This human labour as specific quantum of labour in the abstract must manifest its quantity in the “objective form” of a given equivalent of use-values. For example, 5 cars for 50 sheets of machine-compressible steel sheets, mediated by money, etc. Hence a social relation appearing as a relationship between things. etc.

2. “The question why money does not itself directly represent labour-time, so that a piece of paper may represent, for instance, x hours labour, comes down simply to the question why, on the basis of commodity production, the products of labour must take the form of commodities. [……………………………………] But Owen never made the mistake of presupposing the production of commodities, while, at the same time, by juggling with money, trying to circumvent the necessary conditions of that form of production”

(pp. 188-189, Chapter 3, Money, or the Circulation of Commodities, footnote 1)

The establishment of generalised production based on directly socialised labour in order to move away as rapidly as possible from commodity production. To undermine commodity production and exchange. And the social acknowledgement and ‘normalisation’ of this system of production through the issuing of “certificates of labour”. Computer technology (e.g. electronic card systems and transfers, etc) will now make this process easier to establish and develop.
Capitalist commodity production is based on private labour becoming abstract, general, social labour through exchange of the products of private labour. Labour receives the stamp of social labour only through exchange and thereby is indirectly socialised labour. But this exchange is an essential, inalienable mediation in capitalist commodity production as a whole. This indirectly socialised character of labour under capital necessitates the dichotomy between money and commodities. Private labour can only be stamped and recognised as social labour through the mediation of exchange at which point the products of private labour assert their character as commodities and the realisation of their values in the form of money as universal equivalent (the market system).
Socialism is based on directly socialised labour which is the antithesis of its indirect form under capitalist commodity production. Implicit here is the negation of the commodity as historic form and therefore of money itself. A system of developed and directly socialised labour has no need for money in order to mediate its reproduction because the commodity-form has been extinguished. This was the case in the communes of prehistory before the rise of exchange and can be so again (return to the old but at a higher stage of development). Stripping the product of labour of its commodity-form, on the one hand, and the initiation and development of directly socialised productive labour in the period of transition, on the other hand, are inseparable moments of the same historical process.

Hence [1] the need to rapidly establish – conditions permitting – a system of production and distribution arising out of directly socialised labour and [2] the creation of a universal system of accountancy of labour-time through the issuing of certificates using electronic and computer technologies, etc.

Marx writes of the point of metamorphosis of the commodity into money (C – M) as the “salto mortale of the commodity“. A point of high vulnerability (a “weak link in the chain” or “Achilles Heel”) for capital in the process of its circulation. The point at which the product of private labour receives the stamp of acceptability of general social labour. At this point, capital is not only susceptible to the fluctuations and vicissitudes of the market but also to actions such as mass consumer boycotts. Severing the nexus here serves to disrupt capital in circulation.

It severs the link between the production of use-values and the realisation of value in circulation i.e. it dis-assembles the necessary relation between the production of use values and the market realisation of value and therefore facilitates the disruption of the capital relation itself.

Sever the nexus which serves to integrate and maintain the two sides (production and circulation) of the process of reproduction of capital as a whole, and the process as a totality starts to break up and disintegrate. Deprive capital of the essential transformation step of commodities into the money-form and the cyclical process of the reproduction of capital starts to break down and perish.

To do this, we must develop social practices and corresponding forms of organisation which dis-establish (strip) the product of labour of its commodity-capital form and disrupts the process of the circulation and accumulation of capital. This would serve to undermine dependency on the global market and facilitate its dissolution.

The transition to a system of immediately (directly) socialised labour is the fundamental, mediating ground for eliminating the process of capitalist commodity production. “On the basis of commodity production, labour becomes social labour only as a result of the universal alienation of individual kinds of labour” (Marx). The establishment of production based on directly socialised labour means the end of capitalist commodity production and therefore its mediation by the money form because “it would be impossible for a specific commodity… confront other commodities as the incarnation of universal labour and exchange-value would not be turned into price; but neither would use-value be turned into exchange value and the product into a commodity, and thus the very basis of bourgeois production would be abolished” [Marx. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress, 1977, pp.84-86]. Private labour only becomes social labour indirectly (taking the money form) through commodity exchange. Directly socialised labour circumvents (“short-circuits”) this mediation and by doing so represents the negation of capitalist commodity production. The creation of social relations founded on directly socialised labour must therefore eliminate those relations founded on the “universal alienation of individual kinds of labour”.

The associated producers themselves are in control of the products of their own labour and not any class, bureaucracy or external (alien) body or organisation. They make the “democratic decisions from below” as to the distribution of the surplus according to the need to accumulate (technical development and innovation), transfer to a collective fund for public provision, workers education/training, private consumption, etc. Once the surplus is taken out of the hands of the producers themselves and appropriated by an alien body/organisation then all the old “muck of ages” has an even greater potential to re-establish itself (the Soviet Union, etc). Those who appropriate and control the distribution of the surplus invariably generate and/or consolidate power structures for self-serving interest and privilege which stand in hostile opposition to those whose labour has produced the surplus unless, of course, appropriation and control over production and distribution is by the associated producers themselves.

A direct accountancy and calculation of labour-time remains in the intial post-capitalist stages. But it takes place as an accountancy of directly socialised labour in order to plan and extend production, distribution and the development of human culture in general. This accountancy and allocation of labour-time ceases to present itself disguised in fetishistic commodity and money forms. Labour-time is calculated as a means to producing a definite quantity of use-values and for catering for the social needs of people generally. Human beings organise themselves in their activities and alter these activities according to their developing needs without the presence of alien bodies and structures confronting them and directing their activities over and against their human interests. These measures, of course, characterise the early phases of the transition. Beyond these phases is the actual transcendence of account keeping itself on the basis of the expenditure of labour time. Then free time (not labour time) becomes the real measure of wealth.

3. “If we proceed further, and compare the process of creating value with the labour process, we find that the latter consists in the useful labour which produces use-values. […………………………………….] Whether it was already contained in the means of production, or has just been added by the action of labour-power, that labour counts only according to its duration. It amounts to so many hours, or days, etc”

(pp 302-303, The Labour Process and the Valorisation Process)

The division of the commodity into use value and value is the mirror replication of the antithetical character of the labour which produces it, i.e. labour which is simultaneously “useful labour” and “value creating”.

The different forms of “useful labour” constitute the panorama which is the division of labour. The exchange of labour activities will serve, in the initial phases of the directly socialised labour process, to facilitate the breakdown of this division of labour and to enrich the skills and life of the human individual. The development of these labour-exchange activities which become mutual, reciprocal accommodations of socially useful, directly socialised productive labour. The evolution of these exchanges creates the medium for the interrelationships and enrichment of human culture in its diverse forms and aspects – technical, scientific, artistic, aesthetic, etc. This will serve to initiate the transcendence of the division of labour within the places of production and within society as a whole.

The division of labour created by the origination and evolution of capitalism engenders the “crippled” human generations of the capital order. From this basis we proceed to transcend the division of labour and hence the highly problematic nature of this movement. It is these “crippled” generations which must commence the historic process of “undoing” all this “crippling” of the individual and in the process create new generations free of all of it. Humanity can only start to transform itself by starting to transform its conditions of life and it can only commence this momentous and enduring process from where it really stands at the prevailing stage of development. Humanity can only use itself as the material which it itself finds available and at hand. From the human being of the 21st century global capital order to that of the “true realm of freedom”.

4. “the extraordinary increase in the productivity of large-scale industry, accompanied as it is by both a more intensive and more extensive exploitation of labour-power in all other spheres of production, permits a larger and larger part of the working class to be employed unproductively”

(p.574, Machinery and Large-Scale Industry, section 6)

How much more true is this today at the opening of the 21st century with capitalist exploitation on a globally integrated scale, with computerisation, robotics, automation, etc. And specifically with the global polarisation between “productive labour” in Asia and Latin America, etc, and the “unproductive labour” of Europe and North America, etc. The creation of most of the surplus value in the former and its conveyance in stupendous quantities to the latter indicative of the inhuman and destructive superexploitation in the former. Marx refers to the personifications of this “unproductive labour” as the “servant class”. Today we could locate millions in the so-called “service sector”. Marx adds “What an elevating consequence of the capitalist exploitation of machinery!” (p.575) with this reproduction of “the ancient domestic slaves, on a constantly extending scale” (p.574)

5. “……..every advance in the use of machinery entails an increase in the constant component of capital [………] and a decrease in the variable component [……….] We also know that in no other system of production is improvement so continuous and the composition of capital employed so subject to variation as in the factory system. This constant variation is however equally constantly interrupted by periods of rest, during which there is a merely quantitative extension of factories on the existing technical basis. During such periods the number of workers employed increases”

(p.578, Machinery and Large-Scale Industry, section 7)

A relative decrease in variable capital (to constant capital) is accompanied by an absolute increase in variable capital with the extension of capitalist production. More workers are employed globally but less relative to the value of machinery as productive technique advances. The growth in the mass of surplus value takes place side by side with the growth in mass structural unemployment. Marx noted this trend in the middle of the nineteenth century and it now replicates itself on a world scale with capitalist globalisation. This must have the most profound implications for the whole global capitalist system as its structural crisis unfolds in the coming century. One of the most tangible symptoms of this crisis is the irredeemably persistent and growing mass global unemployment.

This contradictory movement is an underlying motor in the unfolding of this crisis and drives capital-in-crisis increasingly and ever towards a more “destructive reproduction” with all the inhuman and barbarous consequences for humanity and Nature. If the organic composition has a historic tendency to increase, then ultimately it is only the unplanned extension of production which can serve as a medium for the realisation of value and the source of revenue for consumption. Capital now enters its global phase of development (degeneration) which is simultaneously one of crisis and increasingly difficult-to-realise destructive self-reproduction.

Mass unemployment in the epoch of capital’s global crisis must include all sections of the wage-labouring workforce whether they are highly skilled and “professionalised” or “unskilled”. Capitalist globalisation inevitably signifies mass unemployment in the presence of a phenomenal increase in the productivity of labour, starvation and malnutrition in the presence of the overproduction of food, mass homelessness in cities full of empty habitable buildings, the deprivation and destruction of public healthcare and education facilities where humanity now has the knowledge and potential to eliminate both, mass overwork at one end of a polarity and mass, destitute idleness at the other with all the social consequences and ramifications necessarily implied by that contradiction.

Global capital-in-crisis is driving the human species and the natural conditions necessary for a higher form of human life towards a black hole of history. An abyss into which it will draw and destroy the whole of human culture unless humanity prosecutes an ultimately successful global struggle against the capitalist system itself and for the elimination of capital from the social metabolism as a whole.

6. “……large-scale industry, through its very catastrophes, makes the recognition of the variation of labour and hence of the fitness of the worker for a maximum number of different kinds of labour into a question of life and death. [………………………] ; the partially developed individual, who is merely the bearer of one specialised social function, must be replaced by the totally developed individual, for whom the different social functions are different modes of activity he takes up in turn.”

(p.618, Machinery and Large-Scale Industry, section 9)

The development of capitalist industry itself – “through its very catastrophes” – creates the technical and social conditions which point towards the transcendence of the division of labour. This development turns the “specialised” worker into one who must adapt and alter his mode of labour to satisfy the requirements of capital. This, taken in its its fullest significance and potential in socialist society, points towards the activation of the tendency towards the transcendence of the social division of labour in which the “partially developed individual” will becoem replaced by the “totally developed individual”.

Part 3 of Marx’s Theories of Surplus Value

Marx. Theories of Surplus Value, Part 3. Lawrence and Wishart Edition, 1972. (Translated by Jack Cohen and S.W. Ryazanskaya)

[Readers must study the full quote relating to each comment. [………………] indicates middle part of quotation]

1. “If the labouring producer pays himself his own wages and if his product does not at first assume the “shape” of other people’s revenue from which savings are made and then paid back by these people to the labourer, it is necessary that the labourer be in posession of his conditions of production [………..] In order that his wages and consequently the labour fund can confront him as alien capital, these conditions of production must have been lost to him and have assumed the shape of alien property. [……………] Once this separation exists, this process (the process of the real generation of capital – SM) does indeed take place and it continues and extends, since the surplus labour of the worker always confronts him as the revenue of others, through the saving of which alone wealth can be accumulated and the scale of production extended”

(pp. 421-22, Chapter 24 on Richard Jones)

“accumulated stock becomes capital only because of this personification”

(p.427, ibid)

When accumulated wealth ceases to confront the producers as the alien property of others (capitalist class, state property, etc) and is appropriated, developed and controlled by the producers themselves, then the presentation of wealth in personified forms will cease. Capital itself must be eliminated but also property as “state property” and positively replaced by the self-managing and self-directing activity of the associated producers.

2. “The main difference between productive and unproductive labour noted by Adam Smith is that the former is exchanged directly for capital and the latter for revenue….”

(p.426, ibid)

Marx later writes in relation to the work of Richard Jones that….

“Jones quite correctly reduces Smith’s productive and non-productive labour to its essence – capitalist and non-capitalist labour – by correctly applying the distinction made by Smith between labourers paid by capital and those paid out of revenue”

(p.432, ibid)

Capital-in-crisis constantly invades and drives to appropriate the different spheres of public provision for the purpose of its self-valorisation i.e. to take over public provision and social services provided by the state in order to invest for profit. The PFI (Private Finance Initiative) in Britain is an example of this predation by capital. The labour performed by workers in these areas is non-productive in the above sense. Capital now drives towards transforming this labour into productive labour i.e. labour which is exchanged directly for capital in order to return the value advanced with an increment. All public provision – once appropriated by capital – is now provision on condition of profit. No profit means no provision. This capital offensive against public provision spells catastrophe for millions. Capital must transform non-productive into productive labour in its predatory drive to counter the effects of its own global structural crisis on itself as a social relation of production and distribution. To strive to continue with the accumulation of capital. Nothing must stand in its way in this, its untransgressable logic. This crisis is the historic driving force behind capital’s need to appropriate and run public services on the strict basis of profit. It is the fundamental ground mediating the “privatisation” of public provision since Thatcher came to power in 1979 and continued by New Labour.

Shaun May

November 2014

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