(I’ve had sporadic internet and computer access for a bit here so I’ve written bits of drafts of a few posts over a few days, I’m going to post this stuff all now.)

This began as a digression during my post taking notes on the very beginning of v2 of Capital. I decided to cut it into its own post. More on reproduction…

Capital continually completes – and simultaneously begins anew, on a regularly expanding basis – the circuit M-C…P…C’-M’.

It’s always embarrassing to quote myself but it’s faster… here’s what the abbreviation means:

The dashes represent market activity (exchanges) and the ellipses represent time away from markets (production). Marx breaks this sequence down into “three stages.” (23.)

The stage M-C represents the capitalist appearing on the market as an owner of money, M, looking to buy commodities, C. These commodities consist of a variety of objects (means of production) and of labor power.

The stage C…P…C’ represents the process of production. The workers hired (ie, the labor power purchased) are set to work in production, P, using the other objects purchased – raw material, tools, machines, the physical space of the work place. The produce new commodities, C’.

The stage C’-M’ represents the capitalist returning to the market as an owner of commodities, the end result of the production process P.

(Quoted from this blog post, which also contains my notes on Marx’s more expanded discussion of the M-C…P…C’-M’ circuit.)

In v2 of Capital Marx notes that “what is M-C” for the capitalist, when it is the purchase of that special commodity which is labor power, is L-M “for the seller”, the worker. “The labourer spends the money so obtained gradually for a number of commodities required for the satisfaction of his needs, for articles of consumption. The complete circulation of his commodity [labor power] therefore appears as L-M-C (…) hence in the general form of the simple circulation of commodities, C-M-C. Money is in this case merely a passing means of circulation, a mere medium in the exchange of one commodity for another.” (27.)

Marx here references his discussion in v1 of Capital where he distinguishes between the circuit of capital and what he calls simple circulation: C-M-C. [I don’t have my copy of v1 with me and don’t have internet access at the moment that I’m writing this so I’m going from memory. In v2 Marx references volume 1 chapter 3 section 2a. I have a note in the margin of my copy of v2 from last time I tried to read it that says that this is page 103 in v1, but I don’t remember which edition that refers to.] In simple circulation, the first commodity and the second are different, and they are purchased for use. The final C is consumed and does not circulate further. The exchange of labor power for wages is a form of simple circulation, for workers. Workers sell their labor power in exchange for money which we use to buy the means of susbsistence that we live on. We consume these and use them up. They drop out of the circuits of capitalism, in the sense that we don’t use them to create a product we sell for more money. The pictures below represent the overlap of simple circulation and capitalist circulation.

The worker’s perspective is in blue. The first box is the more abbreviated version. The second is a more expanded or detailed version, specifying that the commodity sold by the worker is L, labor power. The key difference between these two circuits, C-M-C or L-M-C compared to M-C…P…C’-M’ – that is, the difference between simple circulation and capitalist production is that simple circulation doesn’t result in accumulation of capital. The worker has to repeatedly sell labor power.

I want to also note here that the abbreviation for simple circulation, C-M-C or for the worker L-M-C, can be misleading. In fact simple circulation often looks more like C-M-C…A…C* or L-M-C…A…C* where A is a form of activity or labor or production that transforms the purchased commodities, C, to transform them into a different object, C* to prepare them for consumption (I say C* instead of C’ because in Marx’s notation C’ indicates an increase in value). The commodity purchased here is the means of subsistence; in v2 of Capital (and I believe elsewhere but I’m going memory so I’m not 100% sure) Marx refers to “the means of subsistence as means of production of the labour-power itself.” (30.) Means of production don’t automatically carry out production, they require some labor that works upon them. What I’ve here called L-M-C…A…C* could actually be called L-M-C…A…C*…L* where L* is labor power that is sustained or perhaps improved. After the means of subsistence (the “means of production of the labour-power”) are transformed into usable/consumable goods then they are consumed in a fashion that (re)produces the worker.

This can work in at least three different ways. Imagine three scenarios. In one, the worker buys groceries. Someone has to do some work to turn the purchased food into a meal, so the worker cooks to turn the food. In another scenario, someone in the same household as the worker cooks the food. In a third scenario, the worker pays someone for cooked food, like in dining at a restaurant.

In scenario one, the worker combines his or her own labor with the commodities purchased. In scenario two, where someone else in the household prepares the commodities for consumption, the stage L-M-C is followed by a sort of negotiation over how the money earned and the commodities purchased will be used but this is not a fully commodified negotiation – the activity isn’t purchased in market. (There are many shades of gray here.) In scenario three, the worker pays for food in a way that involves purchasing the labor of others directly – cooks and servers and so on. In all three cases, the commodity purchased (whether it’s to be worked on further in the household or consumed immediately as in a restaurant) is, generally speaking, purchased from a capitalist. The diagram below represents this. The black and orange letters represent two different capitalists’ series. The blue letters represent a worker. Part of the money used to purchase labor forms that worker’s wages. The green circle here represents that the worker’s wages derive from the fund that the capitalist has allotted to purchase labor power. That worker then buys commodities from another capitalist who brought them to market after a production process. The gray ellipse here around C’ and C represents that the commodities, C, purchased by the worker as means of subsistence form C’ for some capitalist. The purple circle represents that the money the worker spends to buy means of subsistence (again, for the worker C and for some capitalist C’), that money forms part of the money, M’, taken from the market by the capitalist who sold the means of subsistence.

Marx repeatedly discusses dynamics where the capitalists who produce means of subsistence try to cheapen them while maintaining their price, with ill effects on workers – as in Marx’s discussion of the adulteration of bread. Commodification of the means of subsistence means the commodification of at least some of the conditions for human social and biological life. Part of the great inhumanity of capitalism is that things people need to live and to flourish are regularly treated by others as simply a means to make a profit. Among the great many examples we could find of the problems with this, a scene in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath has always stuck with me. Hungry migrant workers watch as a farmer dumps kerosene on ripe oranges: from a market and capitalist perspective, oranges were oversupplied, driving down prices, so it was good to destroy some of them. The outrage this is for hungry people is obvious. These are two different ends or logics to economic activity, production subordinated to capital accumulation or production for other uses. (Note to self: I think my notes on use value and exchange value may be relevant here.)

Later in v2 of Capital, Marx writes that “The wage labourer lives only by the sale of his labour-power. Its preservation – his self-preservation, requires daily consumption.” (On this see Jeanne Boydston‘s work – this perspective has been a common one, that the waged workers’ remunerated activity is all that they live by. That’s not true. It’s true that the working class require wages; it’s not true that wages alone reproduce the class: wages are a necessary but not a sufficient condition. Among other things, think about families in which a wage earner brought home the money and an unwaged person took some of that money and did the shopping, an unwaged labor of procuring means of subsistence using money paid in wages. Dallacosta and Fortunati are relevant here too.) “Hence payment for it [that is, labor power] must be continually repeated at rather short intervals in order that he [that is, the worker] may be able to repeat acts L-M-C or C-M-C, repeat the purchases needed for his self-preservation. For this reason the capitalist must always meet the wage-labourer in the capacity of a money-capitalist, and his capital as money capital.” (33.)

All of this requires commodification of a relatively large quantity of means of production, enough to compel work for wages. “[I]f the wage-labourers, the mass of direct producers, are to perform the act L-M-C, they must constantly be faced with the necessary means of subsistence in purchasable for, i.e., in the form of commodities. [I would add here that they must also not face systematic viable access to means of subsistence in noncommodified forms.] This state of affairs necessitates a high degree of development of the circulation of products in the form of commodities, hence also of commodities produced.” (33.)

I never did finish my post on chapter 25 of v1 of Capital, which is embarassing. It’s also annoying because I will now have to reread the final 70 pages of that chapter *again* in order to finish the damn post. Argh. Anyway, it seems to me that this theme of social reproduction/reproduction of the working class ties into stuff I was interested in as I was taking notes about v1 chapters 23, 24, and 25.