Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Notes for our discussion on pages 743-882
In these pages, Marx's notes become much scrappier, and sometimes for many pages on end are little more than strings of copied-out excerpts from previous economists. I saw five main themes worth discussion, some of them returns to ideas previously sketched in earlier pages of the Grundrisse; and a few other interesting remarks.
First, the more bitty interesting remarks, and then the more solid (but also "heavier") themes.
*1. Dr Price and Jesus's shilling
The notion of capital as a self-reproducing being - as a value perenniating and increasing by virtue of an innate quality - has led to the marvellous inventions of Dr Price, which leaves the fantasies of the alchemists far behind, and which Pitt earnestly believed and made into the pillars of his financial sagacity in his sinking fund laws... The following, a few striking excerpts from the man:
'Money bearing compound interest increases at first slowly. But, the rate of increase being continually accelerated, it becomes in some time so rapid, as to mock all the powers of the imagination. One penny, put out at our Saviour's birth to 5% compound interest, would, before this time, have increased to a greater sum than would be obtained in a 150 millions of Earths, all solid gold...
'A state need never, therefore, be under any difficulties; for, with the smallest savings, it may, in as little time as its interest can require, pay off the largest debts.'
His secret: the government should borrow at simple interest, and lend out the borrowed money at compound interest. [p.842].
No less a figure than John Maynard Keynes offered a similar scenario - based on the idea that capital's appropriation of new wealth is based only on the arithmetic of compound interest, not on the exploitation of labour - with tongue only partly in cheek:
I trace the beginnings of British foreign investment to the treasure which Drake stole from Spain in 1580. In that year he returned to England bringing with him the prodigious spoils of the Golden Hind. Queen Elizabeth was a considerable shareholder in the syndicate which had financed the expedition.
Out of her share she paid off the whole of England’s foreign debt, balanced her Budget, and found herself with about £40,000 in hand. This she invested in the Levant Company --which prospered. Out of the profits of the Levant Company, the East India Company was founded; and the profits of this great enterprise were the foundation of England’s subsequent foreign investment. Now it happens that £40,000 accumulating at 3.5 per cent compound interest approximately corresponds to the actual volume of England’s foreign investments at various dates, and would actually amount to-day to the total of £4,000,000,000 which I have already quoted as being what our foreign investments now are. Thus, every £1 which Drake brought home in 1580 has now become £100,000. Such is the power of compound interest! [Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, 1930].
*2. Alienation and its overthrow
Social wealth confronts labour in more powerful portions as an alien and dominant power. The emphasis comes to be placed not on the state of being objectified, but on the state of being alienated, dispossessed, sold; on the condition that the monstrous objective power which social labour itself erected opposite itself as one of its moments belongs not to the worker, but to the personified conditions of production, i.e. to capital...
But obviously this process of inversion is a merely historical necessity, a necessity 832 for the development of the forces of production solely from a specific historic point of departure, or basis, but in no way an absolute necessity of production...
With the suspension of the immediate character of living labour, as merely individual, or as general merely internally or merely externally, with the positing of the activity of individuals as immediately general or social activity, the objective moments of production are stripped of this form of alienation...
The worker's propertylessness, and the ownership of living labour by objectified labour, or the appropriation of alien labour by capital - both merely expressions of the same relation from opposite poles - are fundamental conditions of the bourgeois mode of production, in no way accidents irrelevant to it...
Where... wage labour... is the point of departure, there machines can only arise in antithesis to living labour, as property alien to it, and as power hostile to it; i.e. that they must confront it as capital. But it is just as easy to perceive that machines will not cease to be agencies of social production when they become e.g. property of the associated workers.
In the first case, however, their distribution, i.e. that they do not belong to the worker, is... a condition of the mode of production founded on wage labour. In the second case the changed distribution would start from a changed foundation of production, a new foundation first created by the process of history. [p.831-3].
*3. Training for labour in general
We discussed before the idea that capitalist development simultaneously drives to "de-skill" every particular job and to require a higher level of general education and training of the whole working class. Marx seems, rather cryptically, to point to this idea in one passage.
Capitalist growth, he writes, requires growth of the population and [its] training for labour (including thereby also a certain amount of free time for non-labouring, not directly labouring population, hence development of mental capacities etc... [p.774].
*4. "Exploitation by capital without the mode of production of capital"
As regards "backward branches of industry" on the margins of modern bourgeois economy, Marx writes:
The most odious exploitation of labour still takes place in them, without the relation of capital and labour here carrying within itself any basis whatever for the development of new forces of production, and the germ of newer historic forms... What takes place is exploitation by capital without the mode of production of capital. [p.853].
And earlier, he writes that in the development of English capitalism, wage-labour only became fully "free" at the end of the 18th century.
Absolute surplus value... appears determined by the absolute lengthening of the working day above and beyond necessary labour time. Necessary labour time works for mere use value, for subsistence. Surplus labour time is work for exchange value, for wealth...
At this stage the difference between the production of capital and earlier stages of production is still merely formal. With kidnapping, slavery, the slave trade and forced labour, the increase of these labouring machines, machines producing surplus product, is posited directly by force; with capital, it is mediated through exchange...
This form of surplus labour appears in the slave and serf modes of production etc., where use value is the chief and predominant concern, as well as in the mode of production of capital, which is oriented directly towards exchange value...
In... relative surplus value, which appears as the development of the workers' productive power, as the reduction of necessary labour time relative to the working day, and as the reduction of the necessary labouring population relative to the population (this is the antithetical form), in this form there directly appears the industrial and the distinguishing historic character of the mode of production founded on capital.
The forcible transformation of the greater part of the population into wage labourers, and the discipline which transforms their existence into that of mere labourers, correspond to the first form.... coercive measures employed to transform the mass of the population, after they had become propertyless and free, into free wage labourers... This is repeated in a similar fashion with the introduction of large industry, of factories operating with machines...
Only at a certain stage of the development of capital does the exchange of capital and labour become in fact formally free. One can say that wage labour is completely realized in form in England only at the end of the eighteenth century, with the repeal of the law of apprenticeship. [p.769-770].
In my view, these passages shed some light on Stalinist state capitalism as a system heavily oriented to "absolute surplus value".
1. "Capital as fructiferous"
Commodities are products of labour. But they are sold as products of capital. They are sold under conditions governed by the competition of capitals. The active agents of the process, i.e. the capitalists, measure that price in relation to their costs (all their costs), and their gain (excess of sale prices over costs) in relation to the capital employed, i.e. as profit, gain divided by stock of capital, not as surplus value divided by wages.
Capital relates to itself as self-increasing value; i.e. it relates to surplus value as something posited and founded by it; it relates as well-spring of production, to itself as product; it relates as producing value to itself as produced value. It therefore no longer measures the newly produced value by its real measure, the relation of surplus labour to necessary labour, but rather by itself as its presupposition... Surplus value thus measured by the value of the presupposed capital, capital thus posited as self-realizing value—is profit... The product of capital is profit. [p.746].
From this follows (but Marx expands on this nowhere in the Grundrisse) that prices diverge systematically from value (the so-called "transformation problem").
2. The tendency of the rate of profit to fall
This famous "law" was first expounded (first at any length, anyway) in the Grundrisse. It is in the Grundrisse, too, that we find Marx's most extravagant claim for this "law".
This is in every respect the most important law of modern political economy, and the most essential for understanding the most difficult relations. It is the most important law from the historical standpoint. [p.748].
Here, I think, we have to take the term "political economy" in the sense in which Marx subtitled Capital "a critique of political economy". Remember that both Adam Smith and David Ricardo believed (for different reasons) that there was a "law" inexorably pushing down profit rates. Almost a century later, John Maynard Keynes believed the same thing. Marx, rather understandably, seizes on this conclusion of the bourgeois economists as showing, out of the mouths of its own advocates, that capitalist economy was bound to undermine itself. And he thinks he has found a different (sounder) explanation for it.
When Marx came to expound the "law" with a bit more care, in Capital volume 3, he put quite a lot of emphasis on the countervailing factors, and presented it as much more a general tendency, and less an iron law, than Smith or Ricardo did. It remains a fact, I think, that Marx's reasoning on this question was fundamentally wrong.
The main value of the exposition in the Grundrisse is that Marx presents the argument in fresh, straightforward form, without the complications and qualifications which he would add in Capital volume 3, and thus shows the fallacy more clearly.
Marx argues that increasing labour productivity must mean that workers work with a greater mass of machines and raw materials, and therefore the ratio of capital advanced to living labour must rise. Since the surplus value derives from living labour, and the proportion of living labour which can produce surplus value rather than covering wages can only rise in a limited way, the ratio of surplus value to capital advanced, i.e. the gross profit rate, must fall.
The growth of the productive power of labour is identical in meaning with (a) the growth of relative surplus value or of the relative surplus labour time which the worker gives to capital; (b) the decline of the labour time necessary for the reproduction of labour capacity; (c) the decline of the part of capital which exchanges at all for living labour relative to the parts of it which participate in the production process as objectified labour and as presupposed value. The profit rate is therefore inversely related to the growth of relative surplus value or of relative surplus labour, to the development of the powers of production, and to the magnitude of the capital employed as [constant] capital within production. In other words, the... law is the tendency of the profit rate to decline with the development of capital... [p.763].
The fact that in the development of the productive powers of labour the objective conditions of labour, objectified labour, must grow relative to living labour -- this is actually a tautological statement, for what else does growing productive power of labour mean than that less immediate labour is required to create a greater product, and that therefore social wealth expresses itself more and more in the conditions of labour created by labour itself? [p.831].
The capital can grow and the rate of profit can grow in the same relation if the relation of the part of capital presupposed as value and existing in the form of raw materials and fixed capital rises at an equal rate relative to the part of the capital exchanged for living labour. But this equality of rates presupposes growth of the capital without growth and development of the productive power of labour. One presupposition suspends the other. This contradicts the law of the development of capital, and especially of the development of fixed capital. [p.747].
The fallacy: the growth of the mass, or the complexity, of the machinery and the raw materials, does not necessarily mean a growth in their value. If the productive power of labour increases, so also does the productive power of the labour which extracts raw materials or builds machinery.
Marx himself notes that fixed capital is employed only to the extent that its value is smaller than the value it posits [p.766].
Think that through. A capitalist introduces a technical innovation. He will do that only if it raises his profit. If he is the first to introduce that technical innovation, he gets a windfall profit, because he can sell at a price set by his competitors, who produce with higher costs.
Eventually the innovation diffuses. The pioneer capitalist has to cut his selling price. That means that the costs for other capitalists will fall (exception: if the pioneer capitalist produces only luxuries, bought neither as inputs for production nor as wage-goods. In that case, the costs for other capitalists stay the same).
As adjustment proceeds, the pioneer capitalist's profit rate falls from his initial windfall rate - but other capitalists' rate rises. When adjustment is complete, the new general rate is still higher than (or in the exceptional case, no lower than) the old one.
In real life, of course, any number of disturbances could have reduced the profit rate in the meantime. But the profit rate can fall as a pure result of technical innovation only if (somehow) the innovation increases not only real but also money wages.
Or think through the relation between fixed capital and surplus value from another angle. The fixed capital at any point in time is an "objectified" form of the proportion of the surplus value accumulated over a number of previous years, that number being set by the lifespan of fixed capital.
Fixed capital simply cannot spiral into hugeness while surplus value remains limited, for otherwise there would not be sufficient surplus value to supply the required annual increments in fixed capital. There can be a long-term, general tendency for the ratio of fixed capital to surplus value to rise only if there are long-term tendency either for the proportion of surplus-value accumulated (rather than consumed) to rise (there is no such tendency), or for the lifespan of fixed capital to increase (the general trend is rather the opposite).
2.1. Rate and mass of profit
In Capital volume 3 Marx argues that the long-term tendency is for the rate of profit to fall but the mass of profit to rise.
That could be so, of course, without necessarily posing any big problem for capital. There is nothing "natural" about a 15%, or 10%, or 5% rate of profit. Why shouldn't capital gradually, as the decades pass, become accustomed to an always-slightly-decreasing "normal" rate of profit, given that the actual mass of loot increases (and, even more so, the use-values in which that loot is embodied)?
Even if the tendency of the rate of profit to fall were a fact, it does not, contrary to Marx, follow that it would mean that the development of the productive forces brought about by the historical development of capital itself, when it reaches a certain point, suspends the self-realisation of capital.." [p.749].
Bastiat seems to have argued that point. If so, I can't see but that Bastiat was right, on that particular point. Marx denounces Bastiat with great sarcasm, drawing on Ricardo [p.755-6]; but all Ricardo seems to have done is pointed out, arithmetically, that a certain level of decline in the percentage profit rate could produce a reduced mass of profit even if the stock of capital rose (six per cent of 1.1. million is less than seven per cent of one million).
The arithmetic proves nothing at all about real economic trends; if the fall in the rate of profit is supposed to be due to the increase in the stock of capital relative to living labour (as it is in Marx's argument), then an increase from one million to 1.1 million in that stock cannot produce a fall in the rate of profit from 7% to 6%.
2.2. Comment on Ricardo
In passing, however, on these pages, Marx makes two comments on Ricardo which have critical edge against many over-hasty generalisations in the social sciences, including some propounded by Marxists.
Ricardo, so Marx argues, elevates a historical relation holding for a period of 50 years and reversed in the following 50 years to the level of a general law; and constructed general and eternal laws about physiological chemistry at a time where the latter hardly existed... flees from economics to seek refuge in organic chemistry [p.752, 754].
(Ricardo's version of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall was based on a supposed law of increasing costs in agriculture as population increased and agriculture had to spread out to worse and worse land; those increasing costs would drive up wages, because it would cost the workers more to eat, and thus cut into profits. The gainers would be the landlords, drawing increased rents on the better land).
2.3. The growth of the unproductive "middle class"
Marx is commonly held to have predicted the extinction of all middle layers of the population in capitalist society, and a stark polarisation between working class and capitalists. In the Communist Manifesto there is indeed a prediction of that sort.
Marx's settled view was different. In the notebooks published as Theories of Surplus Value he wrote:
What [Ricardo] forgets to emphasise is the constantly growing numbers of the middle classes, those who stand between the workman on the one hand and the capitalist and landlord on the other. The middle classes maintain themselves to an ever increasing extent directly out of revenue, they are a burden weighing heavily on the working base and increase the social security and power of the upper ten thousand. [TSV 2, p573].
Here in the Grundrisse he writes:
A mass of parasitic bodies come to cluster around capital, and, under one or another title, they lay hands on so much of the total production as to leave little danger of the workers being overwhelmed by abundance. [p.757].
In Capital volume 3 Marx argues that interest arises from the phenomenon of "capital as fructiferous": because an industrial capitalist can expect to make x% per year profit from an advance of capital, he can and will borrow the money from a money-capitalist, giving the money-capitalist y% per year interest and keeping (x-y)% as what bourgeois economists call "profit of enterprise". The relative value of x and y is an empirical question determined by the balance of forces between the two groups of capitalists, active industrial capitalists and money-capitalists.
The beginnings of this theory are explained here.
The form of interest is older than that of profit. The level of interest in India for communal agriculturists... indicates.... that profit as well as part of wages itself is appropriated in the form of interest by the usurer... Historically, the form of industrial profit arises only after capital no longer appears alongside the independent worker. Profit thus appears originally determined by interest. But in the bourgeois economy, interest determined by profit, and only one of the latter's parts. Hence profit must be large enough to allow of a part of it branching off as interest. Historically, the inverse. Interest must have become so depressed that a part of the surplus gain could achieve independence as profit. [p.851-2].
Marx devotes many pages to excerpts from other economists on money, collecting facts about money systems at various times and commenting critically on bourgeois theories.
Unfortunately the two main propositions of Marx's comments do not hold up today.
First: that money must be based on gold, or some similar actual money-commodity, actual embodiment of actual labour. For some purposes money can be replaced by tokens, but never for all.
Commodities, as values, are objectified labour; the adequate value must therefore itself appear in the form of a specific thing, as a specific form of objectified labour. [p.795].
As mere numerical magnitudes, as amounts of any unit of the same name, [commodities] only become comparable to one another, and only express proportions towards one another, when each individual commodity is measured with the one which serves as unit, as measure. But I can only measure them against one another, only make them commensurable, if they have a unit - the latter is the labour time contained in both. The measuring unit must therefore [be] a certain quantity of a commodity in which a quantity of labour is objectified. [p.793].
In these pages, Marx refers to the "assignats" currency of revolutionary France, not even professing to represent any specified thing [p.807]. But only in passing: he makes no comment on whether this exception demolishes his rule that only precious-metal-based money is possible.
There is room for argument about when that rule became untrue, but it is certainly untrue now. No central bank holds any quantity of gold remotely adequate to support its currency, or guarantees any gold-equivalent for its currency. For some time now, central banks have been systematically selling gold (slowly, so as not to collapse the market); instead, they hold dollars, yen, or euros as their reserves.
The dollar is not a title to a given quantity of gold. It is a title to a quantum of average US labour. The exact size of that quantum varies somewhat, and is even difficult to determine; but then, it was always difficult to determine the exact amount of labour-time embodied in a quantum of gold.
The new things are evidently, on one side, the growth of the world market beyond the scale that the quantities of gold existing in nature could possibly serve as adequate reserves; and, on the other, the greater strength of the capitalist state, and the greater confidence of the capitalists that the state will, within limits, preserve the ratio of the dollar to US labour-time.
This is, of course, unstable. A collapse of the dollar would wreck world trade without even the option of returning to "specie payments" (settling outstanding bills in gold) except on a small scale. But it is how the world is now.
The best explanation of this that I know comes from the French Regulation School economist (and now Green politician) Alain Lipietz, in The Enchanted World and Mirages and miracles.
Marx's second proposition is a radical inversion of the "quantity theory" of money and prices.
Prices regulate the quantity of currency and not the quantity of currency prices, or in other words... trade regulates currency (the quantity of the medium of circulation), and currency does not regulate trade.... [p.814].
This is true only if the money is based on gold or another precious metal. It is not true for pure paper money. (The inverse, the "quantity theory", is not true either, but that is another matter).
Marx does add, rather cryptically, that this law is not equally applicable to the fluctuations of prices in all epochs. His example of it not applying is e.g. in antiquity, e.g. in Rome, where the circulating medium does not itself arise from circulation, from exchange, but from pillage, plunder etc.
5. Value and capital
Right at the end of this section of the Grundrisse, on pages 881-2, is a fragment which is plainly a first draft of the opening pages of Capital volume 1.
The interesting thing here is the final sentences, which present the whole of economic history as a process, first of the break-up of diverse pre-historic communal systems by exchange, then of the apotheosis of exchange (in capitalism), then of the replacement of capitalism by a new communism.
The system of modern private exchange not the spontaneous economy of societies. Exchange begins not between the individuals within a community, but rather at the point where the communities end -- at their boundary, at the point of contact between different communities... India offers us a sample chart of the most diverse forms of such economic communities, more or less dissolved, but still completely recognizable; and a more thorough research into history uncovers it as the point of departure of all cultured peoples.
The system of production founded on private exchange is, to begin with, the historic dissolution of this naturally arisen communism... A whole series of economic systems lies in turn between the modern world, where exchange value dominates production to its whole depth and extent, and the social formations whose foundation is already formed by the dissolution of communal property....
Earlier, Marx once again makes it very plain that when he starts Capital volume 1 by analysing value, he considers value as formed and shaped by fully capitalist society.
Value, which appeared as an abstraction, is possible only as such an abstraction, as soon as money is posited; this circulation of money in turn leads to capital, hence can be fully developed only on the foundation of capital, just as, generally, only on this foundation can circulation seize hold of all moments of production... Categories such as value, which appear as purely abstract, show the historic foundation from which they are abstracted, and on whose basis alone they can appear, therefore, in this abstraction... The concept of value is entirely peculiar to the most modern economy, since it is the most abstract expression of capital itself and of the production resting on it. In the concept of value, its secret betrayed. [p.776].
Marx cannot quite have meant the last-but-one sentence literally, that value is entirely peculiar to modern capitalism (and does not exist at all in any of the various previous societies with extensive exchange?) More in line with the argument, and more plausible, is the proposition that the full development of value occurs only in modern capitalism.
These pages also include a succinct restatement of why price not only is, but has to be, different from value.
Why is labour time, the substance and measure of value, not at the same time the measure of prices, or, in other words, why are price and value different at all? Proudhon's school believe it a great deed to demand that this identity be posited and that the price of commodities be expressed in labour time. The coincidence of price and value presupposes the equality of demand and supply, exchange solely of equivalents (hence not of capital for labour) etc.; in short, formulated economically, it reveals at once that this demand is the negation of the entire foundation of the relations of production based on exchange value. But if we suppose this basis suspended [i.e. capitalism abolished], then on the other side the problem disappears again... [p.794-5].
Extra note: revolutionising education
Why? It is of concern to us. In this field as in others, socialism will have to build on what has been developed by capitalism.
Some common explanations are only partial.
1. Capitalism demoralises, brutalises, and exhausts a large part of the working class, so that successive generations have no confidence in their ability to acquire wide learning, and do not even try. Yes: but a large pool of working-class people with very limited literacy and numeracy is a drag on capital. A moderate increase in the literacy, numeracy, and self-confidence of these workers would be of advantage to capital. Governments plainly strive to achieve that moderate increase - only, with very limited results.
2. Capitalist governments fail to do many things which would be in the long-term interests of capital, because those things cost money, they lack a powerful particular capitalist lobby to promote them, and so they fall victim every time budgets are tight.
3. Capital fears too wide a diffusion of critical thinking. Yes, but it also fears too narrow a diffusion. By the very nature of capital - fluid, dynamic, ever-changing - capitalist thinking is not monolithic. In almost every sphere of thought other than those immediately touching on capitalist privileges, capital positively welcomes critical, imaginative, outside-the-box thinking.
4. Capital cuts down on general education, such as philosophy, in favour of promoting narrower vocationally-oriented education. I'm not sure that this is even true. Even if philosophy courses are cut back, media studies courses proliferate, and most of the media-studies knowledge is as useless to the bourgeoisie as it is to the working class. Universities build up media studies and cut back philosophy not because of some grand capitalist plot, but because media studies is more popular and brings in more "customers".
There are plenty of immediate issues to be campaigned in relation to the above points, particularly the first and second. But there is more to it.
The Bolsheviks, in their educational experiments (which largely failed, because of poverty, in the short time they had before the counter-revolution), based themselves not only on Dewey's learning-by-doing, but on the ideas which Marx develops in Capital (attributing them to Robert Owen) on the integration of education with productive labour. They called it "the unified labour school".
In all human history until relatively recent times (the point is made by Bruno Bettelheim), children acquired their education, their work discipline, and their concept of what work was and education was for, by first observing and then, gradually, more and more, working with their parents and other nearby adults.
This pattern had many oppressive features. It tended to socialise the children of the great majority into thinking that life could have no possibilities other than a narrow circle of endless, back-breaking toil in the fields (plus, if they were female, further back-breaking housework).
Yet the sudden disappearance of the pattern has strange results. Most children, today, never see their parents or adult neighbours working (except in housework). If they visit a parent's workplace to have a look, very often what they see will be incomprehensible: the parent just sits at a computer. If the child asks a parent what he or she does at work, the parent may be hard put to give a comprehensible answer. (In my impressionistic experience, it is quite common to find that children, even teenagers, do not understand at all what their parents do at work).
Education is thus separated off from work, or even from any well-understood image of work. Hence the constant talk about making schooling "relevant", and the ineptness and often destructiveness of the attempts to make it "relevant". (Mathematics in schools, for example, has been reduced to a collection of "problem-solving techniques". The core of the subject, the idea of mathematical proof, has been scrapped. Yet the problems which are used to practise these "techniques" are almost always, and more or less perforce, highly artificial: "Jessica's daughter is one-third Jessica's age. In 11 years' time Jessica will be twice as old as her daughter. How old is Jessica now?")
Children, from the age of 14, still are inducted into work: but in a very special way. Overwhelmingly, as teenagers, they work in a very narrow range of workplaces - fast-food places, car washes, supermarkets, video shops - with very few other workers much older than themselves.
There is almost none of the fruitful-on-both-sides interaction which could happen when teenagers move to and fro between "real" adult workplaces and the classroom.
Increasingly, mainstream workplaces are set up so that even when a teenager comes in on "work experience", there is nothing for the teenager to do except marginal, menial tasks (photocopying, making coffee, etc.)
Where direct manual labour plays an important part, especially if the manual labour has become light and delicate because of mechanisation, child workers are readily valuable to capital. That is how it was in the 19th century textile mills.
In many modern capitalist workplaces, especially in the richer countries, it would require considerable, and expensive, redesign of the work process to make it possible for teenagers to do work, alongside the adults, from which they would learn.
No capitalist wants to bear that expense. No capitalist government wants to try to impose that expense on recalcitrant capitalists. They confine themselves instead to ineffectual "work experience" courses.
Socialism can and should transform the relationship between work and education.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Three questions arising from pages 690-743
2. Increasing alienation as a revolutionary force?
3. Who or what "breaks down" capitalism?
Three questions arising from pages 690-743
1. Whose is "the general intellect"? Emancipation through education, or universal bludging?
In these pages Marx refers repeatedly to the immense productive power of "the general intellect". What he seems to mean is the general pool of scientific knowledge, more or less readily available to any interested and educated person, in contrast to particular patent processes.
"The general intellect" appears as the property of the capitalist class, not because the capitalists are clever, but because they alone have the accumulated wealth necessary to put the productive power of "the general intellect" to work, hiring scientists along the way if necessary.
Capitalism today has added a twist to this. The number of patents has expanded enormously. Of the seven million patents issued in the USA since the first one in 1836, half have been granted since about 1970 [New Scientist, 6 January 2007]. Since the 1990s, patents are granted to "intellectual property" which would previously have been classified as unpatentable mathematical algorithms. The term "intellectual property" is now everywhere, but dates only from the 1980s. More and more scientific research is done within capitalist corporations, or, if by scientists in universities, under capitalist sponsorship; its results are more and more treated by the capitalist sponsors as their "property".
Under socialism (so I take Marx to think), "the general intellect" will become social property, scientific knowledge being used under social control to shorten the necessary drudgery of economic production and to enrich people's increased free time.
This perspective does not depend on every member of society developing an encyclopedic knowledge of science, any more than the capitalist control of the powers of science today depends on capitalists being scientific experts. I think Marx's perception is coloured by the assumption, still more or less plausible in his day, that an energetic, intelligent, and leisured individual could become basically educated in every field of systematic human knowledge (as Engels pretty much was). That assumption makes no sense today. Anyone today, however energetic, intelligent, and leisured, will be vastly ignorant in many fields of knowledge. That is a manageable problem - but a fairly wide spread of basic scientific education is still, as far as I can see, essential for Marx's perspective to make sure.
Otherwise, how avoid the scientifically-knowledgeable becoming a ruling clerisy? Or, conversely, society being repeatedly disrupted by decisions about the deployment of science being taken democratically with an "electorate" which knows little about the issues at stake and thus is prey to demagogy? These dangers may be a lesser evil than the horrors of capitalism, but they're not good.
Education thus appears as a core issue for socialists.
Marx's prediction in the Grundrisse is that the expansion of free time will lead to a huge expansion of people's self-education and self-development. There is evidence from present-day society that this is not entirely utopian: among the layers of the population whose jobs allow them more free time and energy after work, the take-up of serious popularised-science books and TV programme is higher than ever.
It can hardly be considered automatic, though. Could it be argued that Marx is too optimistically "high-minded" about how people will use more free time? He does write that "free time... is both idle time and time for higher activity", but seems to assume that most people will do a lot of the "higher activity".
Do we need to look at a new objection to socialism, in addition to the old "universal greed" one, and the "universal laziness" one (without the whip of capitalist wage-labour, no-one will work, so society will collapse)? A "universal bludging" one? A scenario that in a socialist society, people will do their short quota of necessary labour, but mostly then spend the rest of their time bludging - as captives of the same sort of dumbing-down entertainment which already seizes more people in today's society than those so exhausted by their wage-labour that (unless very exceptionally strong-willed) they just don't have energy for more? So that the bludging majority will either be the captives of the educated minority, or disrupt society by making social decisions a matter of who can best make a demagogic appeal to an ill-informed public?
Two connected questions are: what should socialists be saying about education now, within capitalist society; and why is capitalism so unable to increase "productivity" in education?
In general, after all, we do not propose to build socialism by executing some blueprint from nowhere and assuming that we have a completely new population with a completely new mentality. We propose to develop socialism by building on bases provided by capitalism, and to do it with people more or less as they are now.
Marx and Engels did write: Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is, necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew [The German Ideology]. But they did not believe that a revolution could transform human nature completely and suddenly; it could only bring to the fore some aspects already there, but currently pushed down, and push down some traits currently boosted.
The methods of education have changed startlingly little over centuries. New ideas - those of active education, learning-by-doing - did come forward in the early 20th century (from John Dewey in the USA, for example). The Bolsheviks drew on those ideas while trying to design a new education system in Russia after the revolution: the poverty of the country, and the civil war, meant that they made little progress before the Stalinist counter-revolution struck down all such efforts.
Deweyan ideas did become more widespread in the advanced capitalist countries after World War 2. But what's "new" bourgeois educational thinking today? The advocacy of a return to the old pre-1900 norm of education by lecture plus rote learning!
In the 1960s there was a smaller flurry of suggestions for new methods of education. Some people suggested that computer systems could take over from teachers. That hasn't happened and doesn't look like ever happening.
On education, the left tends to confine itself to opposing the retrogressionists and demanding better wages for teachers, more teachers, better school buildings, no fees for uni students, and so on. All these things are important, but they do not add up to a revolutionary vision.
2. Increasing alienation as a revolutionary force?
Passages in the Grundrisse can be read as suggesting that, while Marx did not predict a constant fall in absolute working-class living standards, he did predict a trend for capitalism to increase the alienation of labour in all its forms.
That raises two questions. One, was Marx right about that? Two, should we expect increased alienation to produce increased radicalism in the working class?
I think Marx was partly right about the trend, and partly wrong. The wealth of capitalist societies has become more and more "alienated from" the majority - more and more concentrated in the hands of the bosses of a relatively few giant corporations, or even, above them, in the hands of an esoteric layer of financial wheeler-dealers.
Also, capital works constantly to make each job more "alienated". But there, there are counter-tendencies. Many of the most "alienated" jobs - precisely because they reduce the worker more and more to a mere cog in the machinery - end up being abolished through automation. Simultaneously, the number grows of maintenance, repair, and design jobs "alongside" the machinery (a number which Marx, in his time, considered insignificant).
Those jobs, however hard capital tries, tend to be more resistant to "alienation".
Further, the inability of capital to "automate" activities like education and health care leads to a relative growth in the numbers of such workers as teachers and nurses, whose work is, once again, more resistant to "alienation".
Should we expect increased alienation-on-the-job to produce increased radicalism in the working class? No, not necessarily, any more than we expect increased exploitation necessarily to produce increased radicalism. Increased alienation and increased exploitation, in and of themselves, only brutalise. They radicalise only in combination with other things. I see no basis either in Marx or in reality for the idea that the worse things are for workers, the more revolutionary they will be.
What I think Marx does argue, and is arguable, is that capital has an inbuilt drive to make alienation, at the overall class level, at the level of the overall relations between working class and capital, more socially visible.
The semblance of exchange [between workers and capital] vanishes in the course [Prozess] of the mode of production founded on capital. This course itself and its repetition posit what is the case in itself, namely that the worker receives as wages from the capitalist what is only a part of his own labour. This then also enters into the consciousness of the workers as well as of the capitalists. [Grundrisse p.597].
Engels developed the idea further in Anti-Duhring: The crises demonstrate the incapacity of the bourgeoisie for managing any longer modern productive forces... the transformation of the great establishments for production and distribution into joint-stock companies and state property shows how unnecessary the bourgeoisie are for that purpose. All the social functions of the capitalist are now performed by salaried employees. The capitalist has no further social function than that of pocketing dividends, tearing off coupons, and gambling on the Stock Exchange, where the different capitalists despoil one another of their capital...
But the transformation, either into joint-stock companies, or into state ownership, does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces... The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit.
3. Who or what "breaks down" capitalism?
3.1. In these pages of the Grundrisse Marx sometimes writes as if there are more or less automatic mechanisms within capitalism which will lead to its breakdown regardless of what anyone consciously decides to do.
Capitalism thus works towards its own dissolution as a form dominating production... Production based on exchange value breaks down. And so on.
There is similar wording elsewhere in Marx's writings. Capital volume 1: The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated. In sentences about the downfall of capitalism, the verb is in the passive voice ("are expropriated"), with silence on the active subject, or the subject of the verb is an abstraction or even a metaphor ("the knell").
3.2. There is, however, absolutely no room for supposing that Marx was, in his own mind, vague about the active agency of the downfall of capitalism. Just three pages after the thought that "production based on exchange value breaks down", Marx states flatly: The mass of workers must themselves appropriate their own surplus labour. Once they have done so... [p.708].
In the very first line of the Rules of the First International, Marx wrote: The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.
Back in 1845, Marx and Engels had scornfully insisted: History does nothing, it “possesses no immense wealth”, it “wages no battles”. It is man, real, living man who does all that, who possesses and fights; “history” is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims. [The Holy Family].
3.3. The suggestion that capitalism will break down of its own accord has, however, recurred destructively in later Marxist and allegedly-Marxist thought.
3.3.1. At the end of the 19th century, Eduard Bernstein based his "revisionist" drive to swing German Social Democracy towards policies of bit-by-bit reform on the idea that history had refuted a prediction of "breakdown of capitalism" made by Marx and Engels.
Karl Kautsky, as summarised by Lenin, replied: Marx and Engels never propounded a special breakdown theory... they did not connect a breakdown necessarily with an economic crisis. This is a distortion chargeable to their opponents who expound Marx’s theory one-sidedly, tearing out of context odd passages from different writings in order thus triumphantly to refute the “one-sidedness” and “crudeness” of the theory. Actually Marx and Engels considered the transformation of West-European economic relations to be dependent on the maturity and strength of the classes brought to the fore by modern European history.
3.3.2. Yet by about 1909 the same Kautsky, become middle-aged and less revolutionary, was basing his own perspectives on a sort of "breakdown theory". Capitalism, he came to argue, was fast approaching an economic and social crisis so huge that the capitalist ruling class would be thrown into hopeless disarray. So long as the labour movement was well organised and prepared, power would pretty much fall into its hands. Hence Kautsky could combine advocating very cautious tactics for the present - all bold tactics best reserved for the period of catastrophe sure to come soon - with glowing promises of revolutionary victory just round the corner.
3.3.3. The Communist International and the Communist Parties were formed in a period, after the end of World War 1, of actual huge social and economic crisis. A large section of the Communist Parties became devoted to the idea that this capitalist crisis was the once-promised once-and-for-all "breakdown", drawing the conclusion that none but directly revolutionary tactics should now be considered (this was called the "theory of the offensive"). It took a big battle led by Lenin and Trotsky to quash this idea.
Lenin famously remarked (though I can't trace the source of this dictum) that there is no a crisis without a way out for the bourgeoisie. Trotsky spelled it out:
If we grant - and let us grant it for the moment - that the working class fails to rise in revolutionary struggle, but allows the bourgeoisie the opportunity to rule the world’s destiny for a long number of years, say two or three decades, then assuredly some sort of new equilibrium will be established... After a new world division of labor is thus established in agony for 15 or 20 or 25 years, a new epoch of capitalist upswing might perhaps ensue. [Report on the World Economic Crisis and The New Tasks of The Communist International, June 1921].
Trotsky also explained that economic crisis did not necessarily at all produce working-class radicalisation. What was radicalising about the capitalist cycle of boom and slump was the alternation, the change, not necessarily the slump phase.
After a period of big battles and defeats, a crisis has the effect of depressing rather than arousing the working class. It undermines the workers' confidence in their powers and demoralises them politically. Under such conditions, only an industrial revival can close the ranks of the proletariat, pour fresh blood into its veins, restore its confidence in itself and make it capable of further struggle. [My Life].
3.3.4. After the triumph of Stalinism in the Communist Parties, their ideologues placed particular stress on the capitalist-collapse theme. The "tendency of the rate of profit to fall", given little weight by any of the great pre-1914 Marxists, was now touted as "the Marxist theory", supposedly mathematical proof of capitalism's fall into the abyss. See, for example, Emile Burns' much-used 1000-page Stalinist primer of 1935, A Handbook of Marxism.
After World War Two, the Communist Parties insisted right up to the late 1950s that Marx had (correctly) predicted "absolute immiseration", and the working class in Europe was being pushed closer and closer to starvation.
To people hostile to capitalism but uneasy about the USSR, the Stalinists would reply: well, capitalism is collapsing anyway, and the USSR is the only alternative. I can still remember a student meeting as late as 1969 when some of us criticised the East European states, and a CPer replied threateningly that Eastern Europe was going great guns economically, capitalism was doomed, and we'd better start thinking about what side we wanted to be on when "socialism" (Stalinism) took over.
3.3.5. In his very last years Trotsky himself lost his grip on the question of crisis. He came to assume that capitalism had no way out. This assumed condition of permanent and total crisis meant, of course, that: Under conditions of decaying capitalism the proletariat grows neither numerically nor culturally. There are no grounds, therefore, for expecting that it will sometime rise to the level of the revolutionary tasks - other than a new capitalist convulsion pushing the existing working class (with its existing numbers and culture) to rally to the revolutionaries. The harsh and tragic dialectic of our epoch is working in our favour. Brought to the extreme pitch of exasperation and indignation, the masses will find no other leadership than that offered to them by the Fourth International.
This vision, abstracted, crudified and dogmatised, would contribute to much sectarian posturing by would-be Trotskyists after Trotsky's death in 1940.
3.3.6. In any period when capitalism is in extreme difficulties, obviously unlikely to be surmounted soon, there's an understandable tendency among revolutionary socialists to jump to the conclusion that "this is the one", guaranteed by economic reasoning to be the final crisis. In the 1930s, not only Stalinists but also independent Marxists started talking about "late capitalism". In the 1970s, the same again.
3.4. The truth on this, I suggest, is:
a) Revolutionary socialist perspectives depend entirely on the growth and increased awareness and abilities of the working class.
b) They also depend on capitalism being ineradicably subject to crises. If capitalism always kept on an even keel, then there would be none of the tremendous internal conflicts and disarray within the capitalist class necessary to spark and create space for revolutionary mobilisations from below, and it would be impossibly difficult for more than a minority of the working class not to be lulled into an assumption of the eternal durability of capitalism.
c) They do not depend on proving that some "final crisis" or "breakdown" will come, or even that the periodic crises necessarily become sharper. Neither of those things can in fact be proved.
3.5. I think Kautsky was right about the main drift of Marx's thinking. Marx and Engels did not connect a breakdown necessarily with an economic crisis. Actually Marx and Engels considered the transformation of [capitalist] relations to be dependent on the maturity and strength of the [working class].
The curious counterpoint of crisis-enthusiasm in Marx's writings comes, I think, from three things:
a) In earlier writings, the "natural" enthusiasm of the new convert, who can't believe that the refusal of others to accept the revolutionary socialist truths which now seem so clear to him or her can survive the shake-up sure to be provided by the next crisis.
b) A desire to emphasise "materialism" in contrast to the idealism of earlier socialists, for whom socialism was, in one way or another, just the triumph of abstract, ahistorical Reason. Thus in his Afterword to the Second German Edition of Capital (1873), Marx approvingly quotes a reviewer who had written that Marx proves, at the same time, both the necessity of the present order of things, and the necessity of another order into which the first must inevitably pass over; and this all the same, whether men believe or do not believe it, whether they are conscious or unconscious of it. Marx treats the social movement as a process of natural history, governed by laws not only independent of human will, consciousness and intelligence, but rather, on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness and intelligence...
Actually, of course, Marx did not believe the absurd idea that the replacement of capitalism could happen "all the same" whether or not people "are conscious or unconscious of it". But he did believe that processes internal to capitalist development, not some arbitrary will inserted from outside, led to socialist revolution (including by creating the necessary consciousness). He wanted to emphasise that side of it, and was willing to exaggerate a bit, or condone exaggerations by others, in doing so.
Engels would later write: Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to emphasise the main principle vis-a-vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other elements involved in the interaction. [Letter to Bloch, 22 September 1890].
c) I do not believe that Marx ever got clearly into focus the radical difference between a working-class socialist revolution, overthrowing capitalism, and a bourgeois revolution, overthrowing feudalism. With the bourgeois revolution, it can indeed happen with people having very little conscious idea of aims; and much of the work of the bourgeois revolution can arrive as an impersonal economic resultant of the disparate activities of many people, none of whom consciously desired the outcome. Not so with the socialist revolution.
Marx gave many pointers to the difference - in The Eighteenth Brumaire, for example - but it was Trotsky who first formulated it clearly (in Lessons of October, 1924).
Friday, January 12, 2007
Key passages from pp.690-743
The quantitative extent and the effectiveness (intensity) to which capital is developed as fixed capital indicate the general degree to which capital is developed as capital, as power over living labour, and to which it has conquered the production process as such. Also, in the sense that it expresses the accumulation of objectified productive forces, and likewise of objectified labour. However, while capital gives itself its adequate form as use value within the production process only in the form of machinery and other material manifestations of fixed capital, such as railways etc. (to which we shall return later), this in no way means that this use value -- machinery as such -- is capital, or that its existence as machinery is identical with its existence as capital; any more than gold would cease to have use value as gold if it were no longer money. Machinery does not lose its use value as soon as it ceases to be capital. While machinery is the most appropriate form of the use value of fixed capital, it does not at all follow that therefore subsumption under the social relation of capital is the most appropriate and ultimate social relation of production for the application of machinery.
To the degree that labour time -- the mere quantity of labour -- is posited by capital as the sole determinant element, to that degree does direct labour and its quantity disappear as the determinant principle of production -- of the creation of use values -- and is reduced both quantitatively, to a smaller proportion, and qualitatively, as an, of course, indispensable but subordinate moment, compared to general scientific labour, technological application of natural sciences, on one side, and to the general productive force arising from social combination [Gliederung] in total production on the other side -- a combination which appears as a natural fruit of social labour (although it is a historic product). Capital thus works towards its own dissolution as the form dominating production.
While, then, in one respect the transformation of the production process from the simple labour process into a scientific process, which subjugates the forces of nature and compels them to work in the service of human needs, appears as a quality of fixed capital in contrast to living labour; while individual labour as such has ceased altogether to appear as productive, is productive, rather, only in these common labours which subordinate the forces of nature to themselves, and while this elevation of direct labour into social labour appears as a reduction of individual labour to the level of helplessness in face of the communality [Gemeinsamkeit] represented by and concentrated in capital; so does it now appear, in another respect, as a quality of circulating capital, to maintain labour in one branch of production by means of coexisting labour in another. In small-scale circulation, capital advances the worker the wages which the latter exchanges for products necessary for his consumption. The money he obtains has this power only because others are working alongside him at the same time; and capital can give him claims on alien labour, in the form of money, only because it has appropriated his own labour. This exchange of one's own labour with alien labour appears here not as mediated and determined by the simultaneous existence of the labour of others, but rather by the advance which capital makes. The worker's ability to engage in the exchange of substances necessary for his consumption during production appears as due to an attribute of the part of circulating capital which is paid to the worker, and of circulating capital generally. It appears not as an exchange of substances between the simultaneous labour powers, but as the metabolism [Stoffwechsel] of capital; as the existence of circulating capital. Thus all powers of labour are transposed into powers of capital; the productive power of labour into fixed capital (posited as external to labour and as existing independently of it (as object [sachlich]); and, in circulating capital, the fact that the worker himself has created the conditions for the repetition of his labour, and that the exchange of this, his labour, is mediated by the co-existing labour of others, appears in such a way that capital gives him an advance and posits the simultaneity of the branches of labour. (These last two aspects actually belong to accumulation.) Capital in the form of circulating capital posits itself as mediator between the different workers.
Fixed capital, in its character as means of production, whose most adequate form [is] machinery, produces value, i.e. increases the value of the product, in only two respects: (1) in so far as it has value; i.e. is itself the product of labour, a certain quantity of labour in objectified form; (2) in so far as it increases the relation of surplus labour to necessary labour, by enabling labour, through an increase of its productive power, to create a greater mass of the products required for the maintenance of living labour capacity in a shorter time. It is therefore a highly absurd bourgeois assertion that the worker shares with the capitalist, because the latter, with fixed capital (which is, as far as that goes, itself a product of labour, and of alien labour merely appropriated by capital) makes labour easier for him (rather, he robs it of all independence and attractive character, by means of the machine), or makes his labour shorter. Capital employs machinery, rather, only to the extent that it enables the worker to work a larger part of his time for capital, to relate to a larger part of his time as time which does not belong to him, to work longer for another. Through this process, the amount of labour necessary for the production of a given object is indeed reduced to a minimum, but only in order to realize a maximum of labour in the maximum number of such objects. The first aspect is important, because capital here -- quite unintentionally -- reduces human labour, expenditure of energy, to a minimum. This will redound to the benefit of emancipated labour, and is the condition of its emancipation...
To the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production. (The development of this science, especially natural science, and all others with the latter, is itself in turn related to the development of material production.) Agriculture, e.g., becomes merely the application of the science of material metabolism, its regulation for the greatest advantage of the entire body of society. Real wealth manifests itself, rather – and large industry reveals this – in the monstrous disproportion between the labour time applied, and its product, as well as in the qualitative imbalance between labour, reduced to a pure abstraction, and the power of the production process it superintends. Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself. (What holds for machinery holds likewise for the combination of human activities and the development of human intercourse.) No longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing [Naturgegenstand] as middle link between the object [Objekt] and himself; rather, he inserts the process of nature, transformed into an industrial process, as a means between himself and inorganic nature, mastering it. He steps to the side of the production process instead of being its chief actor. In this transformation, it is neither the direct human labour he himself performs, nor the time during which he works, but rather the appropriation of his own general productive power, his understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence as a social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth. The theft of alien labour time, on which the present wealth is based, appears a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large-scale industry itself.
As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of the form of penury and antithesis. The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.
Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary.
On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labour time employed on it. On the other side, it wants to use labour time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value. Forces of production and social relations – two different sides of the development of the social individual – appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.
‘Truly wealthy a nation, when the working day is 6 rather than 12 hours. Wealth is not command over surplus labour time’ (real wealth), ‘but rather, disposable time outside that needed in direct production, for every individual and the whole society.’ (The Source and Remedy etc. 1821, p. 6.)
Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it. To what degree the powers of social production have been produced, not only in the form of knowledge, but also as immediate organs of social practice, of the real life process...
The development of fixed capital indicates in still another respect the degree of development of wealth generally, or of capital...
The creation of a large quantity of disposable time apart from necessary labour time for society generally and each of its members (i.e. room for the development of the individuals’ full productive forces, hence those of society also), this creation of not-labour time appears in the stage of capital, as of all earlier ones, as not-labour time, free time, for a few. What capital adds is that it increases the surplus labour time of the mass by all the means of art and science, because its wealth consists directly in the appropriation of surplus labour time; since value directly its purpose, not use value. It is thus, despite itself, instrumental in creating the means of social disposable time, in order to reduce labour time for the whole society to a diminishing minimum, and thus to free everyone’s time for their own development. But its tendency always, on the one side, to create disposable time, on the other, to convert it into surplus labour...
The mass of workers must themselves appropriate their own surplus labour. Once they have done so – and disposable time thereby ceases to have an antithetical existence – then, on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of the power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time. Labour time as the measure of value posits wealth itself as founded on poverty, and disposable time as existing in and because of the antithesis to surplus labour time; or, the positing of an individual’s entire time as labour time, and his degradation therefore to mere worker, subsumption under labour. The most developed machinery thus forces the worker to work longer than the savage does, or than he himself did with the simplest, crudest tools...
As the basis on which large industry rests, the appropriation of alien labour time, ceases, with its development, to make up or to create wealth, so does direct labour as such cease to be the basis of production, since, in one respect, it is transformed more into a supervisory and regulatory activity; but then also because the product ceases to be the product of isolated direct labour, and the combination of social activity appears, rather, as the producer... In the production process of large-scale industry... just as the conquest of the forces of nature by the social intellect is the precondition of the productive power of the means of labour as developed into the automatic process, on one side, so, on the other, is the labour of the individual in its direct presence posited as suspended individual, i.e. as social, labour. Thus the other basis of this mode of production falls away...
The dimension already possessed by fixed capital, which its production occupies within total production, is the measuring rod of the development of wealth founded on the mode of production of capital...
Real economy – saving – consists of the saving of labour time (minimum (and minimization) of production costs); but this saving identical with development of the productive force. Hence in no way abstinence from consumption, but rather the development of power, of capabilities of production, and hence both of the capabilities as well as the means of consumption. The capability to consume is a condition of consumption, hence its primary means, and this capability is the development of an individual potential, a force of production. The saving of labour time [is] equal to an increase of free time, i.e. time for the full development of the individual, which in turn reacts back upon the productive power of labour as itself the greatest productive power. From the standpoint of the direct production process it can be regarded as the production of fixed capital, this fixed capital being man himself. It goes without saying, by the way, that direct labour time itself cannot remain in the abstract antithesis to free time in which it appears from the perspective of bourgeois economy.
Labour cannot become play, as Fourier would like, although it remains his great contribution to have expressed the suspension not of distribution, but of the mode of production itself, in a higher form, as the ultimate object. Free time – which is both idle time and time for higher activity – has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject. This process is then both discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming; and, at the same time, practice [Ausübung], experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulated knowledge of society... [pp.694-712]
Extra note: crises
1. The famous theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (volume 3 of Capital; also mentioned in the Grundrisse, though never in anything Marx finalised for publication).
2. The tendency of capital to reduce necessary labour-time to a minimum.
Why this tendency should push capital into crises is not clear to me, but there are passages in the Grundrisse (nowhere else, as far as I know) where Marx suggests that this tendency should indeed push capital to breakdown.
3. The concentration and centralisation of capital, and, in counterpoint to it, the massification and concentration of the working class (in Capital volume 1).
To put my own cards on the table, I think that all breakdown theories are follies, even if tentatively suggested by Marx himself. No.3, above, the only published version, is not really a breakdown theory in the way the others are.
The issue was dealt with best by Kautsky in his unjustly neglected and excellent critique of Bernstein, written while Kautsky was still a revolutionary. Lenin summarised this point in an approving review.
Passing from the method to the results of its application, Kautsky deals with the so-called Zusammenbruchstheorie, the theory of collapse, of the sudden crash of West-European capitalism, a crash that Marx allegedly believed to be inevitable and connected with a gigantic economic crisis.
Kautsky says and proves that Marx and Engels never propounded a special Zusammenbruchstheorie, that they did not connect a Zusammenbruch necessarily with an economic crisis. This is a distortion chargeable to their opponents who expound Marx’s theory one-sidedly, tearing out of context odd passages from different writings in order thus triumphantly to refute the “one-sidedness” and “crudeness” of the theory. Actually Marx and Engels considered the transformation of West-European economic relations to be dependent on the maturity and strength of the classes brought to the fore by modern European history. Bernstein tries to assert that this is not the theory of Marx, but Kautsky’s interpretation and extension of it. Kautsky, however, with precise quotations from Marx’s writings of the forties and sixties, as well as by means of an analysis of the basic ideas of Marxism, has completely refuted this truly pettifogging trickery of the Bernstein...
Simon Clarke's book "Marx's theory of crisis" is also useful here, showing (conclusively, I think) that Marx moved away from his flirting with economic-breakdown theories as his thought developed.
In the discussion I also mentioned a study group we held on Marx's writings on the theory of crises a few years back. There are (incomplete) notes from that study group.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Notes for our discussion on pp.533-690
Capital, argues Marx, drives to create an ever-wider-ranging world market - to extend and to speed up economic exchanges.
While capital must on one side strive to tear down every spatial barrier to intercourse, i.e. to exchange, and conquer the whole earth for its market, it strives on the other side to annihilate this space with time, i.e. to reduce to a minimum the time spent in motion from one place to another. The more developed the capital, therefore, the more extensive the market over which it circulates, which forms the spatial orbit of its circulation, the more does it strive simultaneously for an even greater extension of the market and for greater annihilation of space by time... [p.539].
This idea of "the annihilation of space by time" has been taken as a cardinal theme, almost as a motto, by the Marxist geographer David Harvey in the books where he examines globalisation and post-modern conditions, such as The Condition of Postmodernity and Spaces of Capital.
Capital laying the basis for "the universal development of the individual"
This "universalising" tendency of capital, argues Marx, both makes it immensely productive and creates the basis for a new society.
The universalizing tendency of capital... distinguishes it from all previous stages of production. Although limited by its very nature, it strives towards the universal development of the forces of production, and thus becomes the presupposition of a new mode of production...
The result is: the tendentially and potentially general development of the forces of production -- of wealth as such -- as a basis; likewise, the universality of intercourse, hence the world market as a basis. The basis as the possibility of the universal development of the individual... [p.540-1].
Overview of these pages
Previous sections of the Grundrisse corresponded, more or less, with sections in Capital, or were more or less self-contained "essays", like the Introduction, the review of Bastiat and Carey, and the polemic against "labour-money".
From about this point onwards, the notes in the Grundrisse become more diffuse and disjointed. A large part is taken up by surveys of what previous economists have written on various questions, but these surveys are much more bitty than those published in Theories Of Surplus-Value.
Pp.549-602 are indeed about previous economists' theories of surplus value (i.e. of profit). Then, going back to the problem of circulation or "realisation" - how capital sells its products and gets the revenue promptly - Marx spends over 100 pages on notes on or around the questions of credit, competition, the speed of turnover of capital, and fixed and circulating capital. In view, he gets nowhere near crisp conclusions on those questions, and a lot of Marx's discussion of turnover is spoiled by mistakes.
Nevertheless, always striving to relate his discussion of even detailed technical questions back to basic concepts, Marx studs these pages with vivid remarks on basic issues.
There are important comments in these pages on:
(1) The distinction between labour and labour-power (or labour-capacity), which, as we've seen, Marx failed to make in the earlier sections of the Grundrisse;
(2) Why labour is the substance of value, and labour-time the measure of value - an idea pretty much taken for granted in the earlier sections of the Grundrisse;
(3) Capital's drive to develop human potentialities beyond any pre-set limit; how it does that in a way which cramps and the subjugates the majority, and also brings great crises; but also, how in doing that it lays the basis for exploding itself and allowing the creation of a new society.
The economic effects of competition
Competition may well even out, equalize the level of profit, but in no way creates the measure of this level. Likewise, competition among the workers could press down a higher wages level etc., but the general standard of wages... could not be explained by the competition between worker and worker, but only by the original relation between capital and labour.
Competition generally, this essential locomotive force of the bourgeois economy, does not establish its laws, but is rather their executor. Unlimited competition is therefore not the presupposition for the truth of the economic laws, but rather the consequence -- the form of appearance in which their necessity realizes itself. For the economists to presuppose, as does Ricardo, that unlimited competition exists is to presuppose the full reality and realization of the bourgeois relations of production in their specific and distinct character. Competition therefore does not explain these laws; rather, it lets them be seen, but does not produce them. [p.552].
Here Marx is dealing with the sort of argument that says that profits are set by competition between capitalists, or by competition between workers which reduces wages to a level suitable for a particular rate of profit. Later, he comments on Ricardo's statement that he, Ricardo, takes unrestricted competition as a theoretical assumption.
The laws of capital are completely realized only within unlimited competition and industrial production. Capital develops adequately on the latter productive basis and in the former relation of production; i.e. its immanent laws enter completely into reality. Since this is so, it would have to be shown how this unlimited competition and industrial production are conditions of the realization of capital, conditions which it must itself little by little produce... [p.559-60].
Production founded on capital for the first time posits itself in the forms adequate to it only in so far as and to the extent that free competition develops, for it is the free development of the mode of production founded on capital; the free development of its conditions and of itself as the process which constantly reproduces these conditions...
But free competition is the adequate form of the productive process of capital. The further it is developed, the purer the forms in which its motion appear...
Competition merely expresses as real, posits as an external necessity, that which lies within the nature of capital; competition is nothing more than the way in which the many capitals force the inherent determinants of capital upon one another and upon themselves... [p.649-51].
Questions raised by Marx's comments on the economic effects of competition
(1) These passages, and others similar, are given a rather inflated and mystical interpretation by some Marxist writers. They claim that all the laws of motion of capitalism are set by "capital in general" at some very abstract and abstruse level, and even to refer to what competition does is to sink into empiricist shame: see for example many of the reviews of and polemics against Robert Brenner's Global Turbulence.
But if "unlimited competition" is the "executor" of the laws of capitalism, then it follows that the actual forms and limits, the sharpening and slackening and shifts, of capitalist competition must modify how capitalism develops.
(2) Starting soon after Marx's death, and for a century afterwards, the usual argument by Marxists (starting with Engels) was that the rise of free competition characterised the youth of capitalism; that free competition was being squeezed out (or even: had been squeezed out) by the rise of monopolies and state intervention; and that this development signified capitalism moving into old age.
Marx has a passage in the Grundrisse that fits well into that interpretation.
As long as capital is weak, it still itself relies on the crutches of past modes of production, or of those which will pass with its rise. As soon as it feels strong, it throws away the crutches, and moves in accordance with its own laws. As soon as it begins to sense itself and become conscious of itself as a barrier to development, it seeks refuge in forms which, by restricting free competition, seem to make the rule of capital more perfect, but are at the same time the heralds of its dissolution and of the dissolution of the mode of production resting on it. [p.651].
Today it is plain that capitalist competition is once again increasing, and has been doing so for some time. Brenner makes sharpened competition the foundation of his theories, and not even his most critical reviewers have denied the fact. Semmler has shown that the rise of "monopolies" in the traditional Marxist sense (i.e. the domination of an industry a small group of big capitalist corporations) does not necessarily reduce competition, and may even sharpen it. (Semmler, W. 1982. Theories of competition and monopoly, Capital and Class, vol. 12, Winter, 91–116).
It is certainly true that "advanced" capitalism needs more and more state regulation. Even the most extravagant bouts of neo-liberalism have modified that state regulation rather than removing it. But that state regulation can quite well coexist with sharp, and sharpening, capitalist competition.
It seems that the rise of cartels in the early 20th century was mostly to do with difficulties and setbacks in the development of the world market, forcing capital back into greater concern with the creation of protected national arenas. It seems further that those, like Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg, who argued (at first anyway) that these cartels were necessarily fragile and unstable, were closer to the truth than those, like Hilferding, who argued, very influentially, that they had permanently created a new "organised capitalism".
In short, the weight of evidence is that the drive to increase and expand competition is inherent to capitalism at all stages of its development, not only its youth; any "organised capitalism" will in due course face capitalist impulses to transform it once again into a "disorganised capitalism".
Competition and freedom
By some bourgeois economists, so Marx comments, free economic competition is seen:
... as the absolute mode of existence of free individuality in the sphere of consumption and of exchange. Nothing can be more mistaken...
It is not individuals who are set free by free competition; it is, rather, capital which is set free... Free competition is the real development of capital...
Free competition... is nothing more than free development on a limited basis — the basis of the rule of capital. This kind of individual freedom is therefore at the same time the most complete suspension of all individual freedom, and the most complete subjugation of individuality under social conditions which assume the form of objective powers, even of overpowering objects — of things independent of the relations among individuals themselves.
The analysis of what free competition really is, is the only rational reply to the middle-class prophets who laud it to the skies or to the socialists who damn it to hell... The assertion that free competition = the ultimate form of the development of the forces of production and hence of human freedom means nothing other than that middle-class rule is the culmination of world history - certainly an agreeable thought for the parvenus of the day before yesterday. [p.649-52].
Even while flaying the bourgeois ideologues of free competition, Marx also separates himself from the sentimental socialists who say that socialism is a question of emphasising the cooperative as against the competitive, or the collective as against the individual, in human activity. In fact Marx will also show that capital creates cooperation on a huge scale.
Labour and labour-power
On p.462, Marx concludes from a discussion of the way that the wage-worker is subordinated to the machine:
Living labour itself appears as alien vis-à-vis living labour capacity, whose labour it is, whose own life's expression it is, for it has been surrendered to capital in exchange for objectified labour, for the product of labour itself. Labour capacity relates to its labour as to an alien... Labour capacity's own labour is as alien to it -- and it really is, as regards its direction etc. -- as are material and instrument. Which is why the product then appears to it as a combination of alien material, alien instrument and alien labour - as alien property, and why, after production, it has become poorer by the life forces expended, but otherwise begins the drudgery anew...
Not in the way it is usually explained (by trying to explain how the "value of labour" can be two different things, the worker's product and their wage, and concluding that the wage is not the value of labour but of labour-power), Marx has concluded that labour is not only different from labour-power but alien to it.
Marx uses "labour-capacity" and "labour-power" interchangeably, without any nuance of difference. In Capital chapter 6 he writes:
By labour-power or capacity for labour is to be understood the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description.
Unter Arbeitskraft oder Arbeitsvermögen verstehen wir den Inbegriff der physischen und geistigen Fähigkeiten, die in der Leiblichkeit, der lebendigen Persönlichkeit eines Menschen existieren und die er in Bewegung setzt, sooft er Gebrauchswerte irgendeiner Art produziert.
In these pages, Marx returns again and again to the difference between labour-power and labour.
What the capitalist acquires through exchange is labour capacity: this is the exchange value which he pays for. Living labour is the use value which this exchange value has for him, and out of this use value springs the surplus value and the suspension of exchange as such. Because Ricardo allows exchange with living labour -- and thus falls straight into the production process -- it remains an insoluble antinomy in his system that a certain quantity of living labour does not = the commodity which it creates, in which it objectifies itself, although the value of the commodity = to the amount of labour contained in it... [p.561-2].
Wages, however, express the value of living labour capacity, but in no way the value of living labour, which is expressed, rather, in wages + profit... The amount of labour which the worker works is very different from the amount of labour that is worked up into his labour capacity... He does not sell as commodity the use made of him, he sells himself not as cause but as effect. [p.571].
Labour capacity is not = to the living labour which it can do, = to the quantity of labour which it can get done -- this is its use value. It is equal to the quantity of labour by means of which it must itself be produced and can be reproduced. The product is thus in fact exchanged not for living labour, but for objectified labour, labour objectified in labour capacity. [p.576].
What is exchanged for wages is labour capacity, and this does not figure in production at all, but only in the use made of it -- labour. Labour appears as the instrument of the production of value because it is not paid for, hence not represented by wages. As the activity which creates use values, it likewise has nothing to do with itself as paid labour. In the hand of the worker, the wage is no longer a wage, but a consumption fund. It is wages only in the hand of the capitalist, i.e. the part of capital destined to be exchanged for labour capacity. It has reproduced a saleable labour capacity for the capitalist, so that in this regard even the worker's consumption takes place in the service of the capitalist. He does not pay for labour itself at all, only for labour capacity. [p.593-4].
The capitalist does not exchange capital directly for labour or labour time; but rather time contained, worked up in commodities, for time contained, worked up in living labour capacity. The living labour time he gets in exchange is not the exchange value, but the use value of labour capacity...
The exchange which proceeds between capitalist and worker thus corresponds completely to the laws of exchange; it not only corresponds to them, but also is their highest development. For, as long as labour capacity does not itself exchange itself, the foundation of production does not yet rest on exchange, but exchange is rather merely a narrow circle resting on a foundation of non-exchange, as in all stages preceding bourgeois production.
But the use value of the value the capitalist has acquired through exchange is... more labour time than is objectified in labour capacity, i.e. more labour time than the reproduction of the living worker costs. Hence, by virtue of having acquired labour capacity in exchange as an equivalent, capital has acquired labour time -- to the extent that it exceeds the labour time contained in labour capacity -- in exchange without equivalent; it has appropriated alien labour time without exchange by means of the form of exchange... and, as we saw, in the further development of capital even the semblance is suspended that capital exchanges for labour capacity anything other than the latter's own objectified labour; i.e. that it exchanges anything at all for it...
Thus the exchange turns into its opposite, and the laws of private property -- liberty, equality, property -- property in one's own labour, and free disposition over it -- turn into the worker's propertylessness, and the dispossession of his labour, [i.e.] the fact that he relates to it as alien property... [p.673-4].
Profit "misrepresents" surplus value
On pp.565ff Marx examines actual factory accounts. The discussion is confused - the profit rate in the example is 3.8%, not 4.2% as in Marx's text or 4.7% as in the editor's footnote - but the important conclusion is that this percentage "misrepresents" the rate of surplus value, which is 63.5% (1650 divided by 2600, not 1650 divided by 2000, as in text).
The workers' combination as the capitalists' property
The collective power of labour, its character as social labour, is... the collective power of capital. Likewise science. Likewise the division of labour... All social powers of production are productive powers of capital, and it appears as itself their subject. The association of the workers, as it appears in the factory, is therefore not posited by them but by capital. Their combination is not their being, but the being of capital. Vis-à-vis the individual worker, the combination appears accidental. He relates to his own combination and cooperation with other workers as alien, as modes of capital's effectiveness. [p.585].
Same idea as p.470-1: The combination of this labour appears... subservient to and led by an alien will and an alien intelligence - having its animating unity elsewhere... Just as the worker relates to the product of his labour as an alien thing, so does he relate to the combination of labour as an alien combination, as well as to his own labour as an expression of his life, which, although it belongs to him, is alien to him and coerced from him... Communal or combined labour... is... posited as an other towards the really existing individual labour - as an alien objectivity (alien property) as well as an alien subjectivity (of capital)... Capital... is the existence of social labour [p.470-1].
And as Capital chapter 13: The productive power developed by the labourer when working in cooperation, is the productive power of capital... it appears as a power with which capital is endowed by Nature - a productive power that is immanent in capital".
It is the central idea in Michael Lebowitz's book Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class.
On pp.586-7 Marx discusses how this capitalist appropriation of worker cooperation develops.
[In some industries, like mining, there is worker cooperation even before they are taken over by capital. There] capital does not create but rather takes over the accumulation and concentration of workers... [Or sometimes in its early stages] capital employs different hand weavers, spinners etc. who live independently and are dispersed over the land... Their unification by capital is thus merely formal, and concerns only the product of labour, not labour itself...
[Later capital] gathers them [the workers] in one spot under its command, into one manufactory, and no longer leaves them in the mode of production found already in existence, establishing its power on that basis, but rather creates a mode of production corresponding to itself, as its basis. It posits the concentration of the workers in production, a unification which will occur initially only in a common location, under overseers, regimentation, greater discipline, regularity... Now capital appears as the collective force of the workers, their social force, as well as that which ties them together, and hence as the unity which creates this force. [p.586-7]
This idea of first the formal, and then the real, subjection of the workers to capital is further developed in Capital:
... The capitalist mode of production, a mode which, along with its methods, means, and conditions, arises and develops itself spontaneously on the foundation afforded by the formal subjection of labour to capital. In the course of this development, the formal subjection is replaced by the real subjection of labour to capital. [Capital chapter 16].
And in Results of the Immediate Production Process, a text written as a chapter of Capital volume 1 but omitted by Marx in the final editing.
'This continual progression of knowledge and of experience,' says Babbage, 'is our great power.' This progression, this social progress belongs [to] and is exploited by capital. All earlier forms of property condemn the greater part of humanity, the slaves, to be pure instruments of labour. Historical development, political development, art, science etc. take place in higher circles over their heads. But only capital has subjugated historical progress to the service of wealth. [p.589-90].
Around p.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.
On p.604 Marx corrects this simplistic and wrong theory of population, developing the basis of the ideas he will later expound in Capital.
It is already contained in the concept of the free labourer, that he is a pauper: virtual pauper. According to his economic conditions he is merely a living labour capacity, hence equipped with the necessaries of life... [But] he can live as a worker only in so far as he exchanges his labour capacity for that part of capital which forms the labour fund. This exchange is tied to conditions which are accidental for him, and indifferent to his organic presence. He is thus a virtual pauper.
Since it is further the condition of production based on capital that he produces ever more surplus labour, it follows that ever more necessary labour is set free. Thus the chances of his pauperism increase. To the development of surplus labour corresponds that of the surplus population.
In different modes of social production there are different laws of the increase of population and of overpopulation... Only in the mode of production based on capital does pauperism appear as the result of labour itself, of the development of the productive force of labour. [p.604].
Labour under capital and in the future; labour as the substance of value
Adam Smith argued that labour-time was the measure of value because it was the measure of the sacrifice necessary to produce a commodity.
Marx's argument against Smith is very relevant to modern bourgeois economics, because there wages appear as determined by the "marginal cost" of giving up leisure, and profits (or interest, at any rate) by the "marginal cost" of waiting, i.e. setting money aside for production rather than spending it on immediate consumption.
This is labour for Smith, a curse. 'Tranquillity' appears as the adequate state, as identical with 'freedom' and 'happiness'. It seems quite far from Smith's mind that the individual, 'in his normal state of health, strength, activity, skill, facility', also needs a normal portion of work, and of the suspension of tranquillity...
The overcoming of obstacles is in itself a liberating activity - and that, further, the external aims [of labour] become stripped of the semblance of merely external natural urgencies, and become posited as aims which the individual himself posits - hence as self-realization, objectification of the subject, hence real freedom, whose action is, precisely, labour.
He [Adam Smith] is right, of course, that, in its historic forms as slave-labour, serf-labour, and wage-labour, labour always appears as repulsive, always as external forced labour; and not-labour, by contrast, as 'freedom, and happiness'... [p.611].
But For example, even the semi-artistic worker of the Middle Ages does not fit into his definition. [p.612].
Marx emphatically does not see the communist future as a reign of universal idling and "fun" in which there is no tension of exertion.
[When] labour becomes attractive work, the individual's self-realization, [that] in no way means that it becomes mere fun, mere amusement, as Fourier... conceives it. Really free working, e.g. composing, is at the same time precisely the most damned seriousness, the most intense exertion.
The work of material production can achieve this character only (1) when its social character is posited, (2) when it is of a scientific and at the same time general character, not merely human exertion as a specifically harnessed natural force, but exertion as subject, which appears in the production process not in a merely natural, spontaneous form, but as an activity regulating all the forces of nature...
Labour regarded merely as a sacrifice... is a purely negative characterization. This is why Mr Senior, for example, was able to make capital into a source of production in the same sense as labour, a source sui generis of the production of value, because the capitalist too brings a sacrifice, the sacrifice of abstinence, in that he grows wealthy instead of eating up his product directly. Something that is merely negative creates nothing. If the worker should, e.g. enjoy his work - as the miser certainly enjoys Senior's abstinence - then the product does not lose any of its value... [p.612].
Responding to Smith, Marx gives probably the longest exposition in all his writings of exactly why he considers labour to be the substance of value.
Two things are only commensurable if they are of the same nature. Products can be measured with the measure of labour — labour time — only because they are, by their nature, labour. They are objectified labour.
As objects they assume forms in which their being as labour... has, apart from itself, no other features in common. They exist as equals as long as they exist as activity. The latter is measured by time, which therefore also becomes the measure of objectified labour...
In so far as the product has a measure for itself, it is its natural measure as natural object, mass, weight, length, volume etc. Measure of utility etc. But as effect, or as static presence of the force which created it, it is measured only by the measure of this force itself. The measure of labour is time.
Only because products are labour can they be measured by the measure of labour, by labour time, the amount of labour consumed in them.
The negation of tranquillity, as mere negation, ascetic sacrifice, creates nothing. Someone may castigate and flagellate himself all day long like the monks etc., and this quantity of sacrifice he contributes will remain totally worthless. The natural price of things is not the sacrifice made for them. This recalls, rather, the pre-industrial view which wants to achieve wealth by sacrificing to the gods. There has to be something besides sacrifice... [p.613].
The arithmetic of turnover
Marx's discussions of turnover, such as on p.652-7, are vitiated by the confusions which we already saw on pp.518ff, and by another. In some passages Marx does note that differences in the length of the production process of different items are a completely different matter from differences in the quantities of labour-time embodied in them [p.602], and that each round of production does not wait for the sale of the products of the previous round [p.660], but in other passages he ignores these points: remember, these are rough, first-draft notes.
The governing assumption of the calculations on p.652-7 is that each next "production phase" must wait for the sale of the products of the previous one. As if capitalist production were like a craft shoemaker, waiting for the sale of each pair of shoes so that he can buy leather to make the next one.
Capitalist production is not like that. A capitalist in a line of business with a longer production and circulation process (within the normal range, i.e. excluding things like large construction projects, the cultivation of forests, etc.) will have revenue coming back to him just as continuously as one in a line with a shorter production and circulation process, only it will be revenue from the products of somewhat longer ago.
In that sense his capital will "turn over" just as fast. The main difference is that the longer-process capitalist will need a larger amount of "working capital" to finance his larger stock of "work in progress".