So several folk around this corner of the bloggiverse are going to use some fancy web technology to coordinate us reading some Marx together, to up our interaction density. I’m pretty sure we’re going to read ch25 of v1 of Capital. Other folk are of course welcome to join in. The idea is simple – read the chapter, post on it, read others’ posts, make comments and conversation. Should be fun.

Inspired by this upcoming interbloggal fun but daunted by the ratio of my available time this evening to the length of chapter, I decided to re-read chapter 23, as a preliminary. I had forgotten about this chapter, it’s really quite good.

Chapter 23 is the first in section 7, which is titled “The process of accumulation of capital.” In the two page preface to section 7 Marx describes capitalism as being characterized by the section’s titular process. This process has two main phases, a circulation phase and a production phase. He doesn’t use these terms here, but we can think about this in terms of Marx’s use of the series M-C-M’-C’-M”- and so on ad infinitum, where each hyphen indicates an exchange (a purchase-and-sale transaction) and where the apostrophe indicates a quantitative increase (in value). There’s a financial phases and a goods-and-services phase, so to speak.

The M phase, initial circulation, is the “first phase of the movement undergone by the quantum of value which is going to function as capital.” The time is interesting here – “is going to.” The second phase, the process of production, the first C phases, is “complete as soon as the means of production have been converted into commodities whose value exceeds that of their component parts.” (709.) So actually, the first phase isn’t M so much as M-C. The second phase is C…C’, where the ellipse indicates work done (and where the initial C purchased in M-C consists in more than one commodity, it consists in labor power and means of production usually including both raw materials and tools/machinery), work done to produce the end result C’, a commodity (set of commodities) worth more than C, which means more than M, which is to say there has been an increase in value due to exploitation of labor power.

The third phase is second circulation, C’-M’, and really it’s also M’- again. That is, the products resulting from production are sold for more than the initial outlay, and the money gained from that sale then purchases new commodities, starts back to first circulation, to M-C, to start the whole thing over again. It’s a circle, or rather a spiral: circulation to production back to circulation which is really more circulation, then from more circulation to more production back to even more circulation, and so on. “This cycle, in which the same phases are continually gone through in succession, forms the circulation of capital.” (709.) The circulation of capital, and the accumulation of capital, is this movement, M-C-M’-C’-M”-C”-M”’ and so on.

Marx describes a condition of accumulation (but it sounds to me like it just is capital accumulation) as the capitalist sale of commodities and reconversion of the majority of the money received into capital. I think this is useful for understanding roughly what capitalism is as a process, what it means to do capitalism, so to speak. I think Marx’s emphasis on the majority of money as a defining factor is on the one hand a bit arbitrary and on the other hand quite useful. Enterprises are (successfully) capitalist to the degree that they (receive an increment each cycle of production and) dedicate the results of their production to the production of future product, to accumulation. This could I think be developed into a criticism of mutualism/cooperativism, because either worker co-ops will act in a capitalist manner (in which case they’re small businesses) or (and!) they will face pressure from (other) capitalist firms. They can survive these pressures, potentially, and even retain their difference from other enterprises, but only if aided by other forces like unions and conscious workers’ purchasing/spending habits – their survival as anything other than just another capitalist enterprise is not really up to them (they can choose to end that difference, but are not the main motor force for maintaining it, if it’s maintainable – if there’s any difference at all.

A capitalist extracts surplus value from workers “and fixes it in commodities”; this capitalist is “the first proprietor” of this surplus value but not “its ultimate proprietor.” This capitalist shares the surplus value “with capitalists who fulfill other functions in social production taken as a whole, with the owner of the land, and with yet other people.” (709.) As is often the case with Marx it’s hard to tell when he’s marking a matter of perspective and a matter of what claimed reality regardless of perspective: social production as a whole is not quite the same as social production taken as a whole. It seems to me that Marx is here on about both. He goes to say that surplus value is split up into “mutually independent forms” including interest and rent. (709. He specifies that if people want more on circulation they should read v2 of Capital and if they want more on interest etc they should read v3. He also adds that those matters should not lead anyone to forget what is fundamental to all this, exploitation, which is the “inner mechanism” of capitalism. [710.])

Marx specifies that he is “considering accumulation from an abstract point of view, i.e. simply as one aspect of the immediate process of production.” (710.) Marx here does several things. He says that accumulation is not reducible to the immediate process of production, to exploitation. (There are those “mutually independent” element I mentioned above, for instance.) At the same time he suggest that action as if accumulation is reducible to the immediate process of production is a useful simplification. Whether deliberate or not, this keeps the analysis centered on workplaces and firms, which to my mind also keep the analysis on or at least in the neighborhood of a crucial area of working class experience, our jobs. I want to read this as suggesting (or at least supporting the – that is, my – view) that on the one hand our on the job experiences are not a sufficient scope of concern, but that they are on the other hand a very useful (maybe even methodologically necessary?) starting point, one that we shouldn’t neglect.

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Chapter 23 is titled “Simple Reproduction.” Early in the chapter Marx makes some common sense claims about all human societies. For example, “viewed (…) as a connected whole (…) every social process of production is at the same time a process of reproduction.” (711.) That is, any society which uses resources must replace those resources. If it fails to do so at a rate equal to its use, it will face a problem. (He also writes that “If production has a capitalist form, so too will reproduction.” [711.])

“[I]n the capitalist mode of production the labour process appears only as a means toward the process of valorization”; this is not a claim about individual perceptions but about systemic tendencies. Valorization is the end of the reproduction of the means of production (just as it is the end of production), in capitalist societies. The capitalist expenditure of surplus value (expenditure qua capitalist, not necessarily all expenditure by an actually existing person who we would call a capitalist) is in re-investment. Money spent for purposes other than advances on future (surplus) value is not properly capitalist money, even if it’s spent by a capitalist.

“If this revenue [from surplus value] serves the capitalist only as a fund to provide for his consumption, and if it is consumed as periodically as it is gained, then, other things being equal, simple reproduction takes place,” which “causes the disappearance of some apparent characteristics possessed by the process in isolation.” (712.)

Purchase of labor power for some definite chunk of time (M-C where C include labor power) “is the prelude to the production process” and yet is constantly repeated. Workers are paid only after expending our labor power. In a sense, we sell our labor power on a “buy now, pay later” agreement with employers. [Note to self, see Kim Bobo’s book on wage theft.] By the time we are paid, we have “expended [our] labour power, and realized both the value of [our] labour power and a certain quantity of surplus value in the shape of commodities.” We’ve worked already, by the time we get paid. We’ve “produced not only surplus value (…) but also the variable capital (…) before it flows back to [us] in the form of wages.” We produce the funds out of which our wages are paid, and are only employed so long as this continues. (712.) “What flows back to the worker in the form of wages is a portion of the product he himself continually reproduces.” (712.) “It is is his labour of last week or of last year, that pays for his labour power this week or this year.” (713.)

“[I]t is the workers own objectified labour which is advanced to him by the capitalist.” (713.) “[T]he labour-fund, which the worker requires for his own maintenance and reproduction, and which, in all systems of social production, he must himself produce and reproduce.” (714.)

In this last quote and elsewhere in the chapter Marx tacks back and forth between elements specific to capitalist societies and more general elements, as part of distinguishing which is which.

Marx suggests a continuity between waged labor and earlier forms of forced labor (714) and criticizes economist apologists for capitalism for seeing capitalism in more places than it has existed. He notes that after time even if a capitalist had some initial store of money which didn’t derive from exploitation that store is used up and the capitalist’s money comes to be derived entirely from past exploitation. Over time all capital becomes “accumulated capital, or capitalized surplus-value.” (715.)

The basis for capitalism was and is the separation of some people from the means of subsistence and means of production and others’ power over those means. (716.) “[T]he process of production is also the process of the consumption of labour-power by the capitalist,” involving “means of subsistence that actually purchase human beings.” “[T]he capitalist produces the worker as a wage-labourer (…) this perpetuation of the worker, is the absolutely necessary condition for capitalist production.” (716.)

Marx distinguishes productive from unproductive consumption. The latter is sometimes individual consumption, but sometimes individual consumption is productive. Productive consumption includes the using up of raw materials in the process of extracting surplus value, and the consumption of labor power, and the workers’ consumption needed to reproduce their labor power to keep working. the capitalist “profits not only by what he receives from the worker, but also by what he gives him. [‘The capitalist’ in this case stands in, in Marx’s analysis, for collective capital.] The capital given in return for labour-power is converted into means of subsistence which have to be consumed to reproduce the muscle, nerves, bones and brains of existing workers, and to bring new workers into existence.” (717.)

The “individual consumption of the working class is the reconversion of the means of subsistence given by capital in return for labour-power into fresh labour power which capital is then able to exploit. It is the production and reproduction of the capitalist’s most indispensable means of production: the worker. The individual consumption of the worker, whether it occurs inside or outside the workshop, inside or outside the labour process, remains an aspect of the production and reproduction of capital. (…) The fact that the worker performs acts of individual consumption in his own interest, and not to please the capitalist, is something entirely irrelevant to the matter.” (718.)

That said, capitalists and their ilk try to keep workers’ consumption to a minimum, to the level required to produce and reproduce the working class. “What the worker consumes over and above that minimum for his own pleasure is seen as unproductive consumption.” (718.)

Working class consumption “is productive to the capitalist and to the state, since it is the production of a force which produces wealth for other people.” The working class’s “individual consumption is, within certain limits, a mere aspect of capital’s reproduction.” (719.)

Marx touches an important element of social reproduction, the transmission of skills and abilities needed in work. He quotes someone named Hodgskin on this, in a footnote: “The only thing, of which one can say, that it is stored up and prepared beforehand, is the skill of the labourer … The accumulation and storage of skilled labour, that most important operation, is, as regards the great mass of labourers, accomplished without any capital whatever.” (719.) Marx’s quote from before about reproduction is relevant here – that people do this out of interests other than “to please the capitalist” is neither here nor there with regard to the function of this transmission for capitalism.

Marx’s discussion of a Mr. Potter is worth reviewing again later when I’m more awake (it’s on page 722); Potter describes workers as machines and thus as factors of production. This is in the context of a debate about whether or not to encourage (or even allow) workers to emigrate – machines that might run away need to be managed differently than those that don’t.

As capitalist production continues over time it continually “reproduces (…) the separation between labour-power and the conditions of labour,” and the separation between workers and the means of subsistence except as mediated by money in the form of wages: “It incessantly forces him [that is, the worker,] to sell his labour-power in order to live, and enables the capitalist to purchase labour-power in order that he may enrich himself.” (723.)

Waged workplaces exist as part of a social ensemble which includes unwaged spaces, the latter are under pressure to be functional for the former.

“The capitalist process of production (…) seen as a total connected process, i.e. a process of reproduction, produces not only commodities, not only surplus-value, but it also produces and reproduces the capital-relation itself; on the one hand the capitalist, on the other the wage-labourer.” (724.) Capitalist production produces and reproduces class relations and the assignments of people into class positions. We make not only commodities but capitalist society.

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