Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Notes for our discussion on pages 266-458
In the Introduction, Marx has discussed method; in the essay on Bastiat and Carey, he has sketched in polemical form his focus on identifying the real subversive, creative impulses within capitalist development; in pages 115-172, he has started his substantive economic discussion by criticising the Proudhonists and showing that any serious critique of capital must also be a critique of the basic social relations involved in exchange-value.
He then moves on to start that critique. Pages 172 to 250 are a draft, or notes, for chapters 1 to 3 of Capital, covering commodities, exchange, and money. In pages 250-266 Marx moves on from money to capital, the terrain of chapters 4 to 6 of Capital.
In pages 266-458 Marx's notes cease to correspond so closely with what he will later write in Capital. These pages correspond roughly to chapters 7 to 15 in Capital, the chapters that move from the labour process (in general) through to the modern factory system, developing the concept of surplus value along the way.
After page 458 Marx will move back to studying the genesis of capitalism - its contrast to, and evolution from, pre-capitalist economic formations (corresponding to chapters 26-31 of Capital).
Pages 266-274: how, among all the other economic exchanges in capitalist society, the exchange between capital and labour (though obeying the same laws as the other exchanges) has a special, and pivotal, character.
Pages 274-281: interrelation between capital, wage-labour, and landed property.
Pages 282-333: further expansion on the exchange between capital and labour.
Pages 333-401: investigation, through numerical examples, of the relations between labour productivity and surplus value.
Pages 401-424: the problem of how the surplus value is "realised", i.e. of how the capitalist gets to sell the products at a price which brings to him the added value which the workers' labour has contributed. Interspersed in these and later pages are comments on propensity of capitalism to crisis.
Pages 426-433: further numerical examples on similar lines to pages 333-401.
Pages 433-450: equalisation of the rate of profit (what will become the "transformation problem" in Capital volume 3).
Pages 450-458: how capitalist production not only produces goods and services, but, "even more important", reproduces capitalist relations on an ever-expanding scale. (This corresponds to chapter 24 in Capital).
Grundrisse and capital on exploitation
In the Grundrisse, unlike Capital, Marx uses many pages, and much vivid prose, to explain why it is labour, and not anything else, that capital sustains itself from, and to showing how the interchange between labour and capital simultaneously produces wealth for capital and poverty, exclusion, and oppression for labour.
In Capital, Marx is much more laconic about why it is labour that sustains capital.
"In order to be able to extract value from the consumption of a commodity, our friend, Moneybags, must be so lucky as to find, within the sphere of circulation, in the market, a commodity, whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption, therefore, is itself an embodiment of labour, and, consequently, a creation of value. The possessor of money does find on the market such a special commodity in capacity for labour or labour-power". [Chapter 6].
It just so happens that way, and that's that.
Describing exploitation in Capital, Marx starts off very neutral and "matter-of-fact", and lets his picture of the class oppression involved build up over hundreds of pages, with much empirical input, from chapter 7 to chapters 25 and 32. When he first introduces the concept of surplus value, he starts by imagining that wages are equal to the amount of value added by a worker in a day, and showing that is impossible under capitalism. An insoluble conundrum? No, because in fact the value of labour-power (which underpins wages) is determined by the labour-time embodied in working-class subsistence, not by the labour done by the worker after the capitalist has bought the labour-power.
"The owner of the money has paid the value of a day’s labour-power; his, therefore, is the use of it for a day; a day’s labour belongs to him. The circumstance, that on the one hand the daily sustenance of labour-power costs only half a day’s labour, while on the other hand the very same labour-power can work during a whole day, that consequently the value which its use during one day creates, is double what he pays for that use, this circumstance is, without doubt, a piece of good luck for the buyer, but by no means an injury to the seller". [Chapter 7]
Note the neutral, indeed mollifying, language: "by no means an injury to the seller". Only over hundreds of pages will Marx build up the picture which shows that the market criterion, "by no means an injury to the seller", is only a half, or quarter, or one-tenth truth. In Capital, Marx does not even use the words "exploit" or "exploitation" until chapter 11. Even there, those words are mostly used in a fairly neutral way. Only very briefly, by way of signalling what he will develop later, does he mention the more vivid connotations.
"Capital further developed into a coercive relation, which compels the working class to do more work than the narrow round of its own life-wants prescribes. As a producer of the activity of others, as a pumper-out of surplus-labour and exploiter of labour-power, it surpasses in energy, disregard of bounds, recklessness and efficiency, all earlier systems of production based on directly compulsory labour". [Chapter 11].
It is easy to understand why Marx chose this "objective", take-nothing-for-granted, assert-nothing-until-proved, give-your-opponent-their-strongest-argument approach in Capital. It means, however, that the treatment in the Grundrisse is much more fast-burning and vivid.
It dispels one common misunderstanding about exploitation: that it is an arithmetical problem, a problem of workers having less (of the same sort of thing) and capitalists having more. It makes it easier to understand Marx's comment in the Critique of Gotha Programme. About a clause in the programme which said that the problem with wage-labour was an "iron law" keeping wages too low, he complained that:
"It is as if, among slaves who have at last got behind the secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, a slave still in thrall to obsolete notions were to inscribe on the program of the rebellion: Slavery must be abolished because the feeding of slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low maximum!"
Of course slaves generally did not get enough food. Of course Marx would sympathise with slave revolts even if limited to demanding bigger food rations. Of course it is inherent in the system of capitalist wage-labour that workers do get less. Of course it is right and important that workers struggle to get even a little bit more. But Marx did theory so as to encourage workers to revolt against wage-labour as a whole, not just against low wages, just as, in their time, slaves had eventually revolted against slavery as such, and not just against small food rations.
Capital and labour
Marx's argument that "the real non-capital is labour" [p.274] is couched in very "Hegelian" terms. I'll comment on that later in these notes. Just note, for now, that this "philosophical" argument is wrong, in terms of Marx's later conclusions. In those terms, the "opposite of capital" is not labour. It is labour-power, and the distinction between labour and labour-power is highly important.
In Capital, Marx does not just leave it at the deadpan comment that it just so happens that there is a suitable commodity available, namely labour-power. He follows up immediately with a passage showing that special social relations are required in order that labour-power be thus available. "Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production". [Chapter 6].
But is it possible to "go behind" the initial deadpan, rabbit-out-of-hat comment that it so happens that labour-power is available and is a commodity such as capital requires for its sustenance? Can the notes in the Grundrisse help us with that?
Maybe. Marx's demonstration [p.271] that capital cannot sustain itself by exchange with ordinary particular commodities does hold (so long as we assume a society where exchange relations are fairly all-encompassing; for centuries before full-scale capitalism, merchant capital was able to sustain itself precisely by "buying cheap and selling dear" in such exchanges with particular commodities, taking advantage of the fact that they were exchanged between communities without fully-developed internal markets and without an impersonal world market connecting them).
Capital must exchange with a commodity whose "use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value". But that labour-power is such a commodity is no happenstance. If labour is the substance of value, then labour-power is the unique commodity whose use-value is to produce new value.
Read Marx. "The exchange between capital and labour, then we find that it splits into two processes which are not only formally but also qualitatively different, and even contradictory:
(1) The worker sells his commodity... for a specific sum of money... (2) The capitalist obtains labour itself.. the productive force...
The worker cannot become rich in this exchange, since, in exchange for his labour capacity as a fixed, available magnitude, he surrenders its creative power, like Esau his birthright for a mess of pottage. Rather, he necessarily impoverishes himself... the creative power of his labour establishes itself as the power of capital, as an alien power confronting him..."
The worker gets a pittance, smaller or greater, but a pittance. The capitalist gets the general, ever-increasing power of human creativity. The exchange produces exclusion and alienation and (relative) poverty for the worker, and spiralling riches for the capitalist. It is not, or not primarily, that it yields less for the worker than for the capitalist. It yields different things for the two classes, and it yields a class opposition between them.
Marx and the working class: the "civilising influence of capital"
While more vivid in its denunciation of capitalist exploitation than Capital is (at least in the early chapters of Capital, where Marx first introduces the concept), the Grundrisse also seems to be at pains to "balance" this with a greater appreciation of what Marx calls the "civilising influence of capital".
I don't think it is really a matter of "balance". Marx is clear that the "positive aspects" of capitalist development are inextricably intertwined with - really, are the same thing as - the "negative aspects". They are the same process looked at from a different angle. And they are "positive" not because they make capitalism not so bad after all, but because they create within capitalism an immense potential for abolishing and going beyond capitalism.
It is precisely the drive to exploit - to extract more and more surplus-labour and then to "realise" it (by selling the products) - that drives the "civilising influence".
"The great historic quality of capital is to create this surplus labour... develop general industriousness as the general property of the new species... develop the productive powers of labour... drive labour beyond the limits of its natural paltriness, and thus create the material elements for the development of the rich individuality...
A system of general exploitation of the natural and human qualities... while there appears nothing higher in itself, nothing legitimate for itself, outside this circle of social production and exchange... Hence the great civilizing influence of capital; its production of a stage of society in comparison to which all earlier ones appear as mere local developments of humanity and as nature-idolatry..."
What makes the working class subversive; and crisis
The Grundrisse marks a decisive shift in Marx's view of the revolutionary role of the working class. And it is a shift which is registered there much more clearly than anywhere else. The same ideas are visible in Capital, in chapter 15, where Marx argues that modern industrial conditions create a more potently and multivalently creative and subversive working class than older conditions, but there they are very much more "tucked away". Quite likely Marx was keeping back a further, finished development of the ideas for the book on wage labour which he planned as a sequel to Capital but never wrote.
In the first text in which he identified the working class as the agency of socialist revolution, his Introduction to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1844), Marx put it like this:
"Where, then, is the positive possibility of a German emancipation?
Answer: In the formulation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong, but wrong generally, is perpetuated against it; which can invoke no historical, but only human, title; which does not stand in any one-sided antithesis to the consequences but in all-round antithesis to the premises of German statehood; a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society, which, in a word, is the complete loss of man and hence can win itself only through the complete re-winning of man. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat".
The working class is able to create a new, more human, society because it has been dehumanised and brutalised, "is the complete loss of man". There is nothing but dialectical flourish to explain this postulated transition.
This exposition takes us no further than the hopeful but puzzled comments by Engels in a letter to Marx of October 1844:
"As it is, the workers had already reached the final stage of the old civilisation a few years ago, and the rapid increase in crime, robbery and murder is their way of protesting against the old social organisation. At night the streets are very unsafe, the bourgeoisie is beaten, stabbed and robbed; and, if the proletarians here develop according to the same laws as in England, they will soon realise that this way of protesting as individuals and with violence against the social order is useless, and they will protest, through communism, in their general capacity as human beings. If only one could show these fellows the way! But that’s impossible".
In the Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx has moved forward. Building on the prefigurations of "the brotherhood of man" which he has seen in his association with organised French socialist workers in Paris in 1844, and on the understanding of the importance of trade-union struggles which he has developed from studying the English experience and in his polemic against Proudhon (1846), he adduces positive properties of the working class itself - its self-organisation in economic struggles, its building of links using modern communications, its learning about political action thanks to the bourgeoisie being compelled to draw it into that action - rather than simply postulating it as the negation of capitalist society.
He also distinguishes between the working class, as a revolutionary force, and those who are most brutalised and dehumanised by capitalism, the lumpenproletariat, whom he considers more likely to be reactionary.
Even in the Communist Manifesto, though, Marx has not emancipated himself from the old "iron law of wages" (the idea, commonplace among socialists at the time, that capitalism necessarily limited wages to physical-subsistence level), and so there are still large elements of his view of the working class as the epitome of brutalisation and dehumanisation.
"It is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases..."
In the Grundrisse and in chapter 15 of Capital, Marx argues differently. Developed capitalist production, precisely because of its drive to extract and realise surplus value, has no choice but to "drive labour beyond the limits of its natural paltriness", to replace "labour in which a human being does what a thing could do", to create a workforce of varied and wide potentialities, and also to create new aspirations and needs among the working class.
Marx's discussion of all this in the Grundrisse is, I think, still limited by a tendency to see "crisis" as being, in some rather mysterious way, the thing that will finally trigger all these potentialities. In his book, Marx's Theory of Crisis, Simon Clarke has shown convincingly that, in the years after the Grundrisse, Marx moved decisively away from that equation of revolution with crisis, and came to see revolution more as the culmination of the build-up of subversive working-class potential within capitalism.
Quite a lot of this section of the Grundrisse deals with the propensity of capitalism to crisis, but I think everything on that subject here represents only a very sketchy and initial version of ideas developed much better later (notably in Theories of Surplus Value), and has no independent value.
The limits of "consumerism"?
There can be no doubt about it: in contrast to most socialist thinking, Marx, in the Grundrisse, sees capitalist consumerism as a highly "progressive" force. Of course he was aware of the "other side". Marx could not and did nopt anticipate our contemporary environmental concerns, but he did point out:
"All progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country starts its development on the foundation of modern industry, like the United States, for example, the more rapid is this process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth - the soil and the labourer". [Chapter 15].
His emphasis, however, was on the way that capitalist development enlarged needs and aspirations, and thus created the force which could eventually make a better society.
Do we need to adopt a more "pessimistic" view today? Although large-scale capitalist agriculture today is actually more careful about the soil than much 19th-century agriculture was, in general capitalist industry imposes a much bigger threat to "the original sources of all wealth" now than in the 19th century.
A long series of studies have shown that increased income and consumption levels did produce more health and happiness up to a certain point, somewhere around the mid-'70s, but since then it is not true that having more stuff in your house - more electronic gadgets, exotic foods, designer clothes - makes you happier, even on average.
We know that, for a fully communist society to be possible, there has to be a certain limit to people's desire to have more stuff. As Trotsky put it: "The deathblow to money fetishism will be struck only upon that stage when the steady growth of social wealth has made us bipeds forget our... humiliating fear about the size of our ration". If, when everyone has enough of the basics, we are still anxiously jostling each other to see who can get the most luxurious car or the newest widescreen tv, then there will be no full communism.
There is plenty of good reason to suppose that the anxious jostling can be got rid of, over generations. Plenty of human societies in history have seen excessive consumption, and outdoing your neighbours, as bad. They have rejected the capitalist credo, "greed is good". Even in present-day capitalist society, bombarded with advertising and all the rest, a fair number of people reject "greed is good".
But then the question is, where's the limit? It doesn't have to be, and can't be, something fixed, but there has to be a ballpark limit. Plainly the limit has to be high enough to give everyone food, clothing, shelter, and reasonable access to culture and travel. Plainly also, if the limit is so high that in any future human society large numbers will have an irrepressible, aching desire to live like Paris Hilton, then communism is impossible.
Maybe the level reached by the better-off sections of the working class in the most prosperous countries by the 1970s marks the approximate limit, and expansion of consumerism beyond that is more regressive than progressive?
On the other hand, back in 1986 Ernest Mandel was debating this issue of limits to consumer desire with Alec Nove, a "market socialist" who insisted that the unlimited nature of consumer desire meant that any future society would have to be dominated by markets - the only alternative being rationing of the scarce desired goods from above, which would bring worse evils than markets would. To prove his case, Mandel had to suggest that there were some consumer goods which people would really not mind doing without. Casting around for an example, he picked on the video cassette recorder, then an expensive new luxury.
"Might it not be preferable to forego the Betamax [i.e. VCR], the second car (perhaps even the first, if adequate public transport were available), the electrical meat-cutting knife, and to work ten hours fewer a week, with much less stress - if the satisfaction of all primary needs were not endangered by such a reduction?" (New Left Review I/159, September-October 1986).
Today, it is not just that almost all working-class people in prosperous countries have VCRs or DVD players. Apparently it's commonplace in Third World shanty-towns to find dwellings which have no running water but still have a TV and VCR, run off pirate cables. In Kabul under the Taliban, one of the things that people would risk terrible reprisals for was to gather in cellars and watch videotapes of the film Titanic on VCRs and TVs carefully hidden from the religious police.
An Indian film-maker once described to me his attempt to shoot footage in a village chosen to be untouched by the 20th century. His researchers found a village in Indonesia which they said fitted the bill. After a difficult journey by boat down a river, he eventually got there, and yes, it did seem untouched. A few hours later he saw another boat come down the river. On the front of it, a sign - "Blockbuster Video".
In short, it would not go down well to tell the working class, even the working class in poorer countries, that communism will be good, but some luxuries like VCRs may be unavailable.
The answer may be that there is a limit, but it is inherently blurred. There will always be new things coming within the limit, but at the same time there will be things going out of it, too. After all, in Marx's day most middle-class families, and even some better-off working-class families, would regard it as ridiculously austere to say that under communism domestic servants would no longer be available.
But again, maybe the expansion of capitalist consumerism in the last 20 years has had as progressive a character as any expansion of capitalist consumerism ever has? VCR, DVD players, iPods, personal computers, the Internet - haven't these all expanded working-class people's culture and cultural aspirations, despite all the dross connected with them?
When considering the way that workers had been able to get "a share of civilization which distinguishes [them] from the slave", Marx adduced "participation in the higher, even cultural satisfactions, the agitation for his own interests, newspaper subscriptions, attending lectures, educating his children, developing his taste etc".
But Marx would have known very well that the workers who used their little discretionary income to read newspapers and books, attend lectures and political or trade-union meetings, visit art galleries, and so on were the minority. So even were those who used it for other "cultural" activities such as the more varied forms of religious service newly available, or sports. The typical new goods of mass consumption at the time were tea, spirits, opium, sugar, processed foods, and mass entertainment of a sort which makes Home And Away or Big Brother look hochkultivierte.
Public executions were still a major form of mass entertainment in England until they were ended as late as 1868. The newer forms of mass entertainment, available in the most prosperous countries, were epitomised by P T Barnum.
Barnum began his career as a showman in 1835 with his purchase and exhibition of a blind and almost completely paralysed African-American slave woman, Joice Heth, claimed by Barnum to have been the nurse of George Washington, and to be over a hundred and sixty years old.
He then ran a museum in New York, where he made a special hit in 1842 with the exhibition of Charles Stratton, the celebrated midget "General Tom Thumb" and the Fiji Mermaid. His collection also included the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker.
After a temporary retirement, and a couple of failures, he opened his last enterprise in 1871 - P T Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome, a travelling amalgamation of circus, menagerie and museum of "freaks".
Culture and stupidity
Marx sees great subversive and creative potential in capitalism's creation of a system of "artificial" needs, i.e. of culture. He knows that capitalism intertwines the creation of that system with an inculcation of "stupidity", which includes driving us towards trying to satisfy all needs with ever-more private possessions. "Private property has made us so stupid and one-sided that an object is only ours when we have it – when it exists for us as capital, or when it is directly possessed, eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, etc., – in short, when it is used by us". "Das Privateigentum hat uns so dumm und einseitig gemacht, daß ein Gegenstand erst der unsrige ist, wenn wir ihn haben, also als Kapital für uns existiert oder von uns unmittelbar besessen, gegessen, getrunken, an unsrem Leib getragen, von uns bewohnt etc., kurz, gebraucht wird". [1844 Manuscripts, section on "Private Property and Communism"].
The emancipation of culture from that "stupidity" can come only through human activity pushing through and beyond capitalist development, not by an attempt to back out of it into an earlier, simpler era.
"Crude communism... how little this annulment of private property is really an appropriation is in fact proved by the abstract negation of the entire world of culture and civilisation, the regression to the unnatural simplicity of the poor and crude man who has few needs and who has not only failed to go beyond private property, but has not yet even reached it. The community is only a community of labour, and equality of wages paid out by communal capital – by the community as the universal capitalist. Both sides of the relationship are raised to an imagined universality – labour as the category in which every person is placed, and capital as the acknowledged universality and power of the community". [1844 MS, ibid].
The "Hegelian Marx"
After his initial statement on labour as the "opposite of capital", the force which sustains capital, Marx devotes pages 275-8 to demonstrating a dialectical interrelation between the three concepts capital, wage-labour, and landed property, each generating a "transition" to the next concept.
The basic problem here is one we've discussed earlier - that Marx tends to present the transition to capitalism in England, where it proceeded through a long and comprehensive "agricultural revolution" long before the industrial revolution, as the universal template. In fact, in most countries the transition has been quite different. In some countries, Tsarist Russia for example, advanced industrial capitalism has grown up in the cities while the transformation of landed-property relations lags long behind.
Another question is raised, that of the "Hegelian", or supposedly "Hegelian", character of the Grundrisse. Martin Nicolaus's foreword to the English translation of the Grundrisse places great stress on this (pp.26-43), and Nicolaus follows up by adding footnotes to the text with references to Hegel's Logic wherever he can.
Nicolaus justifies all this by reference to a letter from Marx to Engels of 14 January 1858.
"I am getting some nice developments. For instance, I have thrown over the whole doctrine of profit as it has existed up to now. In the method of treatment the fact by mere accident I have again glanced through Hegel's Logic has been of great service to me - Freiligrath found some volumes of Hegel which originally belonged to Bakunin and sent them to me as a present. If there should ever be time for such work again, I should greatly like to make accessible to the ordinary human intelligence, in two or three printer's sheets, what is rational in the method which Hegel discovered but at the same time enveloped in mysticism".
This is thin stuff. Notice, for a start, that this January letter comes very late in the process of Marx writing the Grundrisse - he started in August 1857 and finished in March 1858 - yet no-one can separate out the supposedly unenlightened earlier bits of the Grundrisse, before Marx "again glanced through" the Logic, from the supposedly more enlightened later bits.
Nicolaus interprets Marx's comment that he has discovered new things about profit as a reference to Marx's argument that the rate of profit (surplus-value divided by capital advanced) misrepresents exploitation (surplus-value divided by payment for labour-power). Why and how is that argument particularly "Hegelian"? Nicolaus refers to pages 373-86 of the Grundrisse, part of the section we are studying this week; but those pages are largely taken up with numerical examples ("the devil take this wrong arithmetic!", writes Marx [p.377]), and much of what the numerical examples purport to prove is, as we shall see, wrong.
There is a simple explanation for Marx's frequent use of Hegelian tropes in private notebooks, hurriedly scribbled down, like the Grundrisse: namely, that the Hegelian style of argument and exposition was what he had been trained in as a young man. To write "in Hegelian" was for Marx not a peculiar effort, as it would be for us today, but a drilled-in instinct. That style was all-pervading in early writings like The Holy Family and The German Ideology. Marx increasingly eliminated it from his later published works, but when writing private notes he might well fall back on it.
Why did he eliminate the style from his later published works? Out of deference to philistine public opinion? I doubt it. Marx was not that sort of person. The obvious explanation is that his considered opinion was that the style of argument, however suggestive and illuminating it might be in private notes, just did not stand up as scientific demonstration.
My argument is not, of course, that there was no influence of Hegel on Marx - but that it is not the case that more "Hegelian" passages in Marx are necessarily more profound, or more insightful, than non-"Hegelian" ones. Rather the opposite.
Rather than base ourselves, as Nicolaus does, on Marx's offhand remark in his 1858 letter, we would do better to base ourselves on Marx's considered and detailed, but so-often-ignored, argument in his "Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic" of 1844.
Marx there concludes that Hegel's philosophy is pervaded by the "illusions of speculation", by a sort of "false positivism, or of his merely apparent criticism... reason is at home in unreason... There can be [no] question about an act of accommodation on Hegel’s part vis-à-vis religion, the state, etc. [i.e. a pragmatic adaptation in conflict with his basic outlook], since this lie is the lie of his principle".
Marx's numerical examples. C/v and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall
Pages 333-401, and 426-433, are largely taken up with investigations through numerical examples. Marx knew that he was frequently getting himself tangled up here, making comments to himself like "this highly irksome calculation" and "the devil take this wrong arithmetic!"
As regards positive results from all the number-bashing, there is essentially only one: that if labour productivity rises, then so does surplus value, but generally in a smaller proportion. If the working day is 8 hours, and the value of labour-power corresponds to 4 hours' labour time, then a doubling of labour productivity (assuming workers' level of subsistence stays the same) will increase surplus-value by 50%, from 4 hours to 6. And so on.
Embedded among the number-bashing, however, are two wrong assumptions. Marx corrected one in Capital. He never corrected the other.
Firstly, around page 352, Marx follows an argument fairly commonplace in his day - that accumulation of capital will lead to to increased wages, but that this tendency will eventually be counterbalanced by the increased wages encouraging workers to have more children, and allowing more of those children to survive, thus creating a surplus population. Such a "counterbalancing" mechanism would be too slow to be effective (even in Marx's day, 12 years or so before the increased birth-rate filters through into an increased workforce); in the meantime, of course, capital would have accumulated further, so very likely the counterbalancing would not be effective even with delay; and, also in the meantime, the larger number of children to be looked after, however much the workers could be coerced to neglect them, could not but reduce the effective availability of labour-power. Moreover, in modern societies, and even in not-so-modern ones like late 19th century France, capitalist advance means a fall in the working-class birth-rate, not a rise.
in Capital, Marx corrected himself on this point by showing that the accumulation of capital also produces a strong drive to replace workers by machines. "The labouring population therefore produces, along with the accumulation of capital produced by it, the means by which it itself is made relatively superfluous, is turned into a relative surplus-population; and it does this to an always increasing extent. This is a law of population peculiar to the capitalist mode of production; and in fact every special historic mode of production has its own special laws of population, historically valid within its limits and only in so far as man has not interfered with them". [Chapter 25]
More seriously, everywhere in Marx's numerical examples he assumes that the total capital advanced will not decrease when labour productivity rises. Mostly he just assumes it. On page 390 he explains the assumption. He argues that it is "false" to suppose "that, despite the double force of production, capital [would] continue to operate... without spending more for raw material and instrument of labour". In other words, the constant capital (capital advanced for means of production) must increase relative to variable capital (capital advanced for labour-power) as labour productivity rises.
In a footnote on that same page, he considers a possible exception. The "false" supposition is in fact correct "for every industrialist if the force of production doubles not in his branch, but in the branch whose output he uses".
But the possible "exception" is in fact the general rule. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that labour productivity will rise less in the industries producing inputs for other industries than in those producing final consumer goods. Increased labour productivity generally means a reduction of constant capital as measured in labour-time terms, though not necessarily as measured in physical-bulk or in paper-money terms.
The error here is the fundamental one underpinning Marx's mistaken idea of a "tendency of the rate of profit to fall". We will have to discuss that again, when we come to page 748, where Marx declares that tendency to be "in every respect the most important law of modern political economy, and the most essential".
There is evidence that Marx, on a re-reading, would have, maybe not identified his earlier error, but at least crossed out those words as foolish exaggeration. In any case, he never asserted any "tendency of the rate of profit to fall" in any of the many writings which he finished for publication.