Duncan said not too long ago that we’re reading Capital at a rate slower than Marx wrote it. Glacially slow. Perhaps there’s hope of a mid-winter thaw.

Either way, here are my notes. I’m going to add notes to this post as I re-read the chapter and take notes, as I did on the posts on chapters 23 and 24. When these notes are done, then I’ll re-read the notes on 23-25 and write a post that tries to do more than take notes. Then I’m going to dig in in a real way with the posts that Duncan and NP have written. That’s the plan.

The first section title of ch25 asserts that “a growing demand for labour-power accompanies accumulation if the composition of capital remains the same.” Marx begins the section proper by laying out the goal of the chapter, to “consider the influence of the growth of capital on the fate of the working class.” I haven’t reviewed my notes on chapters 23 and 24, but I don’t think I’m particularly shakey ground when I guess that “the growth of capital” has multiple meanings. I can think of a few possibilities, based on the type of growth (extensive/intensive) and the scope/frame/unit of analysis (total social capital and/or the world market, an industry or smaller market, and an individual firm). So there’s the extensive spread of capitalism, the intensive growth of capitalism (increase in and change in total social capital), extensive and intensive growth of markets and industries, and the extensive and intensive growth of firms.

“The most important factor in this investigation is the composition of capital, and the changes it undergoes in the course of the process of accumulation.” (762.) Again, multiple meanings, I’m going to guess. There’s a cyclical/oscillating compositional dynamic – a repetitive dynamic – and a … a dynamic of systemic outcomes. That’s really opaque. What I mean is, the composition could change in a way where it goes from point A to B to C to D then back to A. That’s not any clearer, ugh. It’s like the circuit M-C-M’, M and M’ differ, and yet M’ become M for the next repetition of the cycle. And there’s a change from M to C, and from C to M’ (and the processes between C and M’), but those changes lead back to roughly the same starting point. That’s what I meant by the first – a cyclical repetition. Then there are changes less a matter of repeating the same old…

Marx distinguishes between a value composition of capital and a material or technical composition of capital. The value composition consists in constant capital (“value of the means of production”) and variable capital (“the value of labour-power, the sum total of wages.”) The technical composition refers to capital as “divided into means of production and living labour-power.” The technical composition is made up of the relationship between those two elements, means of production and “the mass of labour necessary for their employment.” “There is a close correlation between” the value composition and the technical composition. This parallels the distinction and the relationship Marx posits earlier between the valorization process and the labor process.

Marx uses the term “organic composition of capital” and sometimes just “composition of capital” to refer to the value-composition “in so far as it is determined by its technical composition and mirror the changes in the latter.”

Individual firms’ composition can and do differ from each other. “The average of their compositions gives us the composition of the total capital in the branch of production under consideration.” (762.) “the average of all the average compositions in all branches of production gives us the composition of the total social capital of a country, and it is with this alone that were concerned here in the final analysis.” (763.)

Surplus value when capitalized must always in some proportion be transformed into variable capital. If the technical composition stays the same, “i.e., a definite mass of the means of production continues to need the same mass of labour-power to set it in motion,” then demand increases for workers when capital increases, and increases in the same proportion. (763.) Note here that there is a factor involved which is not technical in a narrow sense, namely the rate and intensity of work. In some cases, demand for workers can outpace supply, a possible source of wage rises. Marx says that this must eventually happen if the conditions he assumed continue to obtain, namely that there is growth of capital without a change in the composition of capital. This “in no way alter[s] the fundamental character of capitalist production.” That is, “more or less favourable circumstances in which the wage-labourers support and multiply themselves” is not a measure of whether or not a form of production is capitalist. (763.)

“[R]eproduction on an expanded scale, i.e. accumulation, reproduces the capital relation on an expanded scale, with more capitalists, or bigger capitalists, at one pole, and more wage-labourers at the other pole.” (763.) That’s the sort of thing I had vaguely in mind above when fumbling terminologically, what I called ‘a dynamic of systemic outcomes’ (and simple reproduction is what I was fumbling for when talking about a repetitive/cyclical dynamic).

“The reproduction of labour power which incessantly be re-incorporated into capital as its means of valorization, which cannot get free of capital, and whose enslavement to capital is only concealed by the variety of individual capitalists to whom it sells itself, forms, in fact, a factor in the reproduction of capital itself. Accumulation of capital is therefore multiplication of the proletariat.” (763-764.) That’s great stuff. The ‘enslavement’ is only apparent when one takes a class perspective, Marx discusses something about this earlier (have to review my notes). In a footnote citing “Wage Labour and Capital” Marx writes that ‘proletarian’ refers only to a waged laborer, a person “who produces and valorizes ‘capital’, and is thrown onto the street as soon as he become superfluous to the need for valorization” (764). I don’t like the ‘proletarian is only a waged laborer’ part, and I think it’s in tension with the stuff about how the reproduction of waged laborers is a key role.

Marx quotes Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees (764-765) and it’s amazing, I’ll have to paste in the exact quote using the marxists.org version of v1, I’m not going to type it all out. Once again a case of Marx offering some of his most damning criticisms by quoting the other side and their apologists. Among other things, Marx points out that Mandevile invokes the good of society in such a way that implies that workers are not part of society, society “of course consists of non-workers,” Marx opines sarcastically.

“the mechanism of the accumulation process itself” increases the numbers of “the wage-labourers, who turn their labour-power into a force for increasing the valorization of the growing capital” (765). Capitalism requires the ongoing and extended reproduction of the working class, this entails I think that capitalism requires the continuing domination of the proletariat not only at the immediate point of production but in other areas of life as well in order to continue to secure the arrival of workers to the point of production.

Marx quotes Eden, “It is not the possession of land, or of money, but the command of labour which distinguishes the opulent from the labouring part of the community.” (766.) Here’s a funny bit in the extended footnote that runs from 766-768. “Parson Thomas Chalmers was inclined to suspect that Adam Smith invented the category of ‘unproductive labourers’ out of pure malice, so that he could put the Protestant parsons in it” (768.)

The assumptions Marx has made so far, he says, imply only the extensive growth of capital and relatively favorable conditions for workers, “so that they can extend the circle of their enjoyments, make additions to their consumption fund of clothes, furniture, etc., and lay by a small reserve of money. But these things no more abolish the exploitation of the wage-labourer (…) than do better clothing, food and treatment, and a larger peculium, in the case of the slave. A rise in the price of labour, as a consequence of the accumulation of capital, only means in fact that the length and weight of the golden chain the wage-labourer has already forged for himself allow it to be loosened somewhat.” (769.) This recalls Marx’s earlier remark. Better conditions for workers don’t make them cease to be workers. It’s also worth noting here that for Marx in these passages not all wage rises are the result of workers’ struggles.

Marx summarizes “the differentia specifica of capitalist production. Labour power is not purchased under this system for the purpose of satisfying the personal needs of the buyer, either by its service or through its product. The aim of the buyer is the valorization of his capital, the production of commodities which contain more labour than he paid for, and therefore contain a portion of value which costs him nothing and is nevertheless realized through the sale of those commodities. The production of surplus value, or the making of profits, is the absolute law of this mode of production. Labour-power can be sold only to the extent that it preserves and maintains the means of production as capital, reproduces its own value as capital, and provides a source of additional capital in the shape of unpaid labour.” (769.)

“[A]t the best of times an increase in wages means only a quantitative reduction in the amount of unpaid labour the worker has to supply. This reduction can never go so far as to threaten the system itself.” (770.)

“Apart from violent conflicts over the rate of wages (and Adam Smith already sowed that in such a conflict the master, by and large, remained the master) a rise in the price of labour resulting from accumulation of capital implies the following alternatives”
On the one hand, wages keep rising because they don’t interfere with accumulation. That is, this is “a reduction in the amount unpaid labour [which] in no ways interferes with the extension of the domain of capital.” (770.) The alternative is that accumulation slows due to wage rises, which in turn slows wage rises and so alleviates the pressure which slowed accumulation. In the first case, wages rises that aren’t a problem for accumulation, “the increase in capital made the exploitable labour-power insufficient.” In the second case, wage rises that slow accumulation and in turn slowing accumulation that slows wage rises and so thus allows accumulation to continue, “the relative reduction in the amount of capital caused the exploitable labour-power, or rather its price, to be in excess.” (770.)

“[A]bsolute movements of the accumulation of capital (…) are reflected as relative movements of the mass of exploitable labour-power, and therefore seem produced by the latter’s own independent movement.” (770.) Marx contra autonomist Marxism? I’ll have to read what Harry Cleaver have to say about ch25 (and 23 and 24…); Hardt as well. “[T]he rate of accumulation is the independent, not the dependent variable; the rate of wages is the dependent, not the independent variable.” (770.)

During a “phase of crisis” when prices fall this “is expressed as a rise in the relative value of money” vs when in times of prosperity a general price rise appears “as a fall in the relative value of money.” (770-771.)

“[T]he relation between capital, accumulation, and the rate of wages is nothing other than the relation between the unpaid labour which has been transformed into capital and the additional paid labour necessary to set in motion this additional capital. It is therefore in now way a relation between two magnitude which are mutually independent (…) it is rather, at bottom, only the relation between the unpaid labour and the paid labour of the same working population. If the quantity of unpaid labour supplied by the working class and accumulated by the capitalist class increases so rapidly that its transformation into capital requires an extraordinary addition of paid labour, then wages rise and, all other circumstances remaining equal, the unpaid labour diminishes in proportion. But as soon as this diminution touches the point at which the surplus labour that nourishes capital is no longer supplied in normal quantity, a reaction sets in: a smaller part of revenue is capitalized, accumulation slows down, and the rising movement of wages comes up against an obstacle. The rise of wages is therefore confined within limits that not only leave intact the foundation of the capitalist system, but also secure its reproduction on an increasing scale.” (771.) On this last, here is a moment where it’s possible to see the left wing of capital, the political interests that take up the banner of securing the reproduction of the working class in the long term in a way that include the reproduction of the working class as the working class, ie, the reproduction of subordination. (771.)

I’m done with section 1 of the chapter. There are 5 sections today. I’m on page 772. The chapter ends on page 870. This is going to take a while (a while longer I mean, it’s already taken a while).

Back at it.

A major theme of the second section of ch25 is the creation of unemployment, or rather, the reduction of the relative proportion of capital that goes to pay for wages. This reduction can occur with, in the relatively short term, an absolute rise in the total capital and a rise in jobs. There are incentives or tendencies in capitalist production to make each labor hour more productive, such that the same amount of labor time produces more product, which means that less workers (or of labor hours) are needed to produce the same amount.

Marx writes that eventually “a point is reached in the course of accumulation at which the development of the productivity of social labour becomes the most powerful level of accumulation.” I think Marx again means this in more than one sense – accumulation of individual capital and accumulation of total social capital. (772.) Marx has in mind here making labor time more productive without changing the intensity of that labor, but presumably changing the intensity is another way to achieve a similar result, at least in some cases. Marx takes pains to note (773-774) that changes in the value composition of capital are not the same as or in the same proportion as changes in the technical composition. Marx gives an example from the textile industry. He says that at one point the ratio of variable to constant capital in that industry was about 1:1 (that is, ½ variable and one half constant), whereas in his day it was 1:8 (that is, 1/8 variable and 7/8 constant). This is an 8 fold reduction in the relative proportion of variable capital compared to constant capital. This occurred with a change in the productivity of textile workers “many hundred times greater.” He writes that “with the increasing productivity of labour, he mass of the means of production consumed by labour increases, but their values in comparison with their mass diminishes. Their value therefore rises absolutely, but not in proportion to the increase intheir mass (…) The progress of accumulation lessens the relative magnitude of the variable part of capital, therefore, but this by no means thereby excludes the possibility of a rise in its absolute magnitude.” (774.)

A point for use in relation to ‘the common’ stuff… Marx refers to “instruments of labour which, by their very nature, can only be used in common, such as systems of machinery”, with regard to his discussion of relative surplus value and the role of machinery in capitalist industry (part 4 of v1). Hardly liberatory. Anyhow…

Marx asserts that “When the prevailing system is the production of commodities (…) co-operation on a large scale can be realized only through the increase of individual capitals, only in proportion as the social means of production and subsistence are transformed into the private property of capitalists. Where the basis is the production of commodities, large-scale production can occur only in a capitalist form. (…) all methods for raising the social productivity of labour that grow up on this basis are at the same time methods for the increased production of surplus-value.” (775.)
This seems to me like an argument against mutualism/cooperativism.

Another major thread in this section is the takeover and merger of firms, what Marx calls centralization. Accumulation is the accrual of a surplus from expenditure – return on initial outlay equal to that outlay plus an additional increment. Centralization is when existing amounts of money and processes of accumulation come under the control of a single capitalist or firm. It speeds up the processes of changing the composition of capital and increasing labor productivity by concentrating more resources in a firm. Centralization does not produce new social wealth but redistributes existing social wealth; at the same time, the productivity gains (which also mean less demand for labor and so greater unemployment) in centralization *do* make possible the greater production of social wealth eventually.

Over time, there is a tendency toward there being a few big firms which dominate industries, and many small firms who act within the framework set by the big firms, and more small firms in “spheres of production which large-scale industry has taken control of only sporadically and incompletely.” (777.) Along with this, start-up costs (relative to proportion of return on outlay) rise, making it harder to ‘break into’ established markets.

I must admit, I’m a bit confused about what Marx means by concentration of capital. That’s something to review later. Likewise his discussion of credit (777-780), which he sees as an engine for centralization, along with competition.

“centralization intensifies and accelerates the effects of accumulation, it simultaneously extends and speeds up those revolutions in the technical composition of capital which raise its constant portion at the expense of its variable portion, thus diminishing the relative demand for labour.” (780.)


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Section 3 of ch25 is titled “The progressive production of a relative surplus population or industrial reserve army”

As I think I’ve said, I’d like to think of the time implied in ‘progressive’ in several ways. One sense of it is in the cyclical movement of capital(s), M-C-M’ and all that: a reserve army is produced in that cycle. Another sense, one closer I think to Marx’s intent, that of something happens in capitalist society over time. Let’s say each repetition of M-C-M’ makes a small deposit of/in the industrial reserve army. Over time, those deposits build up, so to speak. This happens as capitalism expands its grasp of society – extensively and intensively – and as capitalist society persists over time in the areas where it already exists.

Marx writes that a change in the composition of capital happens, an “increase of its constant component at the expense of its variable component.” I’ve not looked at it recently but I think this could be fruitfully compared to the passage in the Grundrisse that some people call the fragment on machines. I’ve still not read that Rosdolsky book or Dussel’s book or other key marxological works (some day…), so I’m not as clear as I’d like to be about the relationship between the Grundrisse and Capital (I’ve heard the Grundrisse described as a draft of Capital but that seems like a pretty expanded definition of ‘a draft’) or how closely related the two passages are. Anyway….

In the very next sentence Marx writes about “[t]he specifically capitalist mode of production” and two facets thereof, “the development of the productivity of labor which corresponds to it, and the change in the organic composition of capital which results from it.” (781.) I’d really like to read a good short philological/marxological essay on each of the verbs here, corresponds and results, to see how else Marx uses these terms, if he does. ‘Corresponds’ suggests to me that development of the productivity of labor is simultaneous with a specifically capitalist capitalism. Perhaps crudely schematic reading of each term… if ‘development’ means ‘already accomplished development’ then the specifically capitalist mode of production exists after a certain type of development of labor productivity (though this doesn’t necessarily place development of productivity of labor as the causal factor making something become specifically capitalist). If development means something like ‘developing, underway at the time’ then we have implied here a specifically capitalist mode of production with lower productivity of labor and such a mode with a higher level of productivity, with maybe each also tending to continue to increase productivity. I suspect a combination of all three is the most correct.

Likewise, ‘results from’ could be that there exists this type of capitalism (capitalism which is specifically capitalist) and then there’s a change in the organic composition, or it could mean that there is a continual change in the organic composition, with a … vector or type of change which is proper to the specifically capitalist mode of production. This too would suggest an earlier and a later version with both still being ‘specifically capitalist.’

All that aside, I don’t much like ‘specifically capitalist’ as a term, I’m not sure what light it sheds. But it is interesting in at least one way… if the specifically capitalist mode of production involves a change in the composition of capital, then (remembering Marx’s definition of ‘composition of capital’) we appear to have the existence of forms of capitalism which are not “[t]he specifically capitalist mode of production.” We have capitalism(s) or capitalist enterprises or capitalist social relations which are not specifically capitalist, or which exist within a larger mode of production (synonymous here, I think, with something like ‘social totality’) which is not specifically capitalist.

Marx also defines ‘simple accumulation’ here as “the absolute expansion of the total social capital.” Not sure what to make of that at the moment.

Anyway, Marx’s fish to fry here is that as capitalism goes on the portion of production costs allocated to variable capital decreases dramatically. The demand for labor power is determined, Marx writes, by variable capital alone – that is, by the portion of capitalist money allocated for hiring people to do work – therefore the demand for labor shrinks as capitalism expands. This demand shrinks relative to the proportion of social wealth allocated to paying workers to do work, and perhaps shrinks in absolute terms as well.

While demand for labor power shrinks, the population of people who need to sell their labor power rises. Marx insists that this is not incidental but is a dynamic inherent in capitalism. (782.) There’s a paragraph on 782 (beginning “If we consider the total social capital…”) worth looking at again later, it has bearing on the times of capitalism and how we understand capitalism historically. Marx suggests that the dynamics of total social capital are such that there are some changes which are system wide and some changes which occur at different times and speeds in different capitalist locales/industries. I’d like to read this as suggesting that there is a space between the tendential laws of capitalism and their working out (and, their utility in analysis) in concrete situations, in actually existing capitalisms.

“An abstract law of population” does not exist for humanity. (784.) Humans are historical creatures, and thus varying ones.

Surplus population (judged so from a capitalist perspective) “becomes (…) the lever of capitalist accumulation (…) a condition for the existence of the capitalist mode of production.” Unemployment helps accumulation happen, and becomes necessary for accumulation. The mass of unemployed people “belongs to capital just as absolutely as if the latter had bred it at its own cost.” (784.) I want to interpret this in to two ways too. On the one hand, ‘belonging to capital’ is a sort of logical belonging: the unemployed are of capitalism, they are a capitalist phenomenon. On the other hand, ‘belonging to capital’ is a sort of power relation akin to property (as in, “you belong to me”), which is to say, the unemployed are subject to the power of capital and capitalists. Capitalism is not just the exercise of power at the point of production while on the clock.

Capitalism’s growth involves a scouring of society for marketizable goods and services, and sometimes a re-invigoration of old markets. This is part of why capitalism comes to demand “the possibility of suddenly throwing great masses of men into the decisive areas without doing any damage to the scale of production in other spheres.” (785.) And eventually they’ll be laid off again. This doesn’t happen in any other type of society, Marx says, and “was also impossible when capitalist production was in its infancy (…) it came up against a natural barrier in the shape of the exploitable working population; this barrier could only be swept away by the violent means we shall discuss later.” I think the “we shall discuss later” is a nod toward the last section of v1, on primitive accumulation. I swear I’ve taken notes on that stuff but damned if I can find them, I can only find references here and there in other stuff I wrote. Argh. Lack of system=less efficient use of my time and energy.

Anyhow, a thought struck me here. About this last bit coupled with Marx’s remarks on the ‘specifically capitalist mode of production’ remaking the organic composition of capital, and remarks I know he makes elsewhere in v1 (but damned if I can find them, again, damned lack of system! my note taking sucks sometimes)… It seems to me that for Marx capitalist production and capitalist social relations and capitalists have existed before capitalist society. They were different, but they existed. The dominance of capitalist social relations, though, and the formation of a mode of production which is capitalist… that comes with/from the violence of primitive accumulation.

“Modern industry’s whole form of motion (…) depends on the constant transformation of a part of the working population into unemployed or semi-employed” (786.) “Effects become causes in turn” — capitalist dominance requires an end to levels of access of means of production that allow a significant proportion of the population to get means of subsistence without engaging in waged labor. A cause, or at least a precondition, for capitalist production. Capitalist production in turn becomes a cause for that lack of access continuing onward. Capitalism reproduces its own preconditions.

Lots that I’m skipping here, sadly.

“It is the absolute interest of every capitalist to extort a given quantity of labour out of a smaller rather than a greater number of workers, if the cost is about the same. In the latter case, the outlay of constant capital increases in proportion to the mass of labour set in motion, in the former that increase is much smaller.” (788.) Marx gestures to changes in (capitalism acting on) the composition of the working class, with de-skilling.

“capital increases its supply of labour more quickly than its demand for workers” (789)

“The over-work of the employed part of the working class swells the ranks of its reserve, while, conversely, the greater pressure that the reserve exerts on the employed workers by its competition force them to submit to overwork and subjects them to the dictates of capital” (789.) Part of this dynamic appears in the old tune “Hallelujah I’m a Bum,” which goes in part “why don’t you work like other folk do? how can I get a job when you’re holding down two?”

In a note on p789 Marx references a pamphlet put out by cotton spinners in the early 1860s, which recognized these dynamics. Marx cites the British factory inspectors’ reports for this source. I wonder if there’s a way in which this might illustrate a limit in Marx’s method, in the sense of his sources: he gets his sources in part from the records of the British government. That’s valuable for sure, but the self-activity of the working class is only partially present in those records, and in a refracted/mediated manner.

“the general movement of wages are exclusively regulated by the expansion and contraction of the industrial reserve army.” To really understand industry, then, means understanding “the regulation of the demand and supply of labour by the alternate expansion and contraction of capital.” (790.)

Marx insists that we not confuse “the laws that regulate the general movement of wages, or the ratio between the working class – i.e., the sum total of labour power – and the total social capital, with the laws that distribute the working class population over the different spheres of production.” (791-792.)

The industrial reserve army is “the background against which the law of the demand and supply of labour does its work.” (792.)

One of the take away points here is that “demand for labour is not identical with increase of capital, nor is supply of labour identical with increase of the working class.” (793.)

All of this increases “the despotism of capital.” (793.)

In section 4, Marx identifies three types of surplus population or industrial reserve army: floating, latent, and stagnant. The floating are people who are laid off but expect to be rehired. The latent are people who are not yet on the capitalist labor market. The stagnant are people who regularly can’t get work, people who are on a regular basis in a sense excluded from or not fully able to sell their labor power successfully. Under these conditions, the means of production “become means of domination and exploitation of the producers.” (799.) The need to keep a job does a lot to underwrite the power that bosses have on the job.

Here as elsewhere Marx suggests that there is some internal connection to capitalism and ‘free’ waged labor. He quotes a parson named Townsend saying that “‘Legal constraint’ (of labour) ‘is attended with too much trouble, violence, and noise …. whereas hunger is not only a peaceable, silent, unremitted pressure, but as the most natural motive to industry and labour, it calls forth the most powerful exertions.” (800.)

That’s as good as I can do on sections 3 and 4 for the forseeable future. Section 5 remains. It’s about 70 pages long, which will keep me going slow.

Side note, the wikipedia entry for “reserve army of labour” includes a reference to a book edited by Brass and Van der Linden, Free and Unfree Labor: The Debate Continues. I’ll have to check that out.