Capital and community:
the results of the immediate process of production and the economic work of Marx
by: Jacques Camatte
Translation: David Brown
Published: In French as Capital et Gemeinwesen (Paris: Spartacus, 1976). This translation published by Unpopular books, London 1988.
Transcription, markup & minor editing: Rob Lucas, 2006
Public domain: This work is completely free.
Chapter 5: Mystification of capital: alienation & reification


The Results cast light over Marx's economic work even in this respect. Really it is not a question of a novelty, a hasty idea jotted down and then soon forgotten, the fruit of an imaginative fantasy of the author, but, on the contrary, an important, even essential concept of the marxian criticism of the capitalist system of production. Marx sometimes developed this concept, defining it in another way, however, as fetishism. Thus, for example, in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts:

"To the extent to which the solution of theoretical riddles is the task of practice and effected through practice, the extent to which true practice is the condition of a real and positive theory, is shown, for example, in fetishism." (MECW 3 p. 312)

Later on also in Capital Volume I in the famous chapter 'The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret'. In Capital Volume III, however, Marx readopted the term mystification. As we shall show, although it is not the prerogative of capital, it does achieve its full development in it.

"A social relation of production appears as something existing apart from individual human beings, and the determined relations into which they enter in the course of production in society appear as the specific properties of a thing - it is this perverted appearance, this prosaically real, and by no means imaginary, mystification that is characteristic of all forms of labour positing exchange-value." (Contribution p. 49)

Marx's work is essentially demystifying. It discovered that behind the veil of things lie hidden relations between men. Mystification was thus linked with alienation in its most acute form: reification, which springs from the autonomization of exchange-value. The exposition of mystification therefore supposes that of the other two. We have already spoken of autonomization, now we shall deal above all with mystification and reification.

"This mystification is still a very simple one in the case of the commodity." (ibid. p. 43)

This was developed and amplified in capital:

"Since - within the process of production - living labour has already been absorbed into capital, all the social productive forces of labour appear as the productive forces of capital, as intrinsic attributes of capital, just as in the case of money, the creative power of labour had seemed to possess the qualities of a thing." (Results p. 1052)

Hence all the mystificatory aspects of capital. We have seen them during the subsumption of the use-value par excellence living labour, under fixed capital, during the transformation of coexisting labour into co-existing capital etc.. We shall not return to this. We shall simply say that mystification grows pari passu with the autonomization of capital, that is, as the valorization process supplants the labour process. This occurs when surplus-value is transformed into profit and value into production price.

1. "The difference between fixed and circulating capital, in connection with the calculation of the cost price, thus only confirms the apparent origin of the cost price in the capital value expended, or the price that the expended elements of production, labour included, cost the capitalist himself. As far as value formation is concerned, however, the variable portion of capital, that laid out on labour power, is expressly identified here with constant capital (a portion of capital consisting of production materials), under the heading of circulating capital, and thus the valorization process of capital is completely mystified." (Capital III pp. 123.24)

2. "Since all sections of capital appear equally as sources of the excess value (profit), the capital relation is mystified.

"Yet the way that surplus-value is transformed into the form of profit, by way of the rate of profit, is only a further extension of that inversion of subject and object which already occurs, in the course of the production process itself.[1] We saw in that case how all the subjective productive forces of labour present themselves as productive forces of capital (cf. Capital I pp. 450-53 (and especially the Grundrisse - ed.)). On the other hand, value, i.e. the past labour that dominates living labour, is personified into the capitalist; on the other hand, the worker conversely appears as mere objectified (gegenständliche) labour-power, as a commodity. This inverted relationship necessarily gives rise, even in the simple relation of production itself, to a correspondingly inverted conception of the situation, a transposed consciousness, which is further developed by the transformations and modifications of the circulation process proper." (Capital III p. 136)

3.In the study of autonomization, we cited a passage in which the fact that capital is a relation with itself was explained. Marx added:

"But how this (the creation of new value - ed.) happens is now mystified, and appears to derive from hidden qualities that are inherent in capital itself.

"The further we trace out the valorization process of capital, the more is the capital relationship mystified and the less are the secrets of its internal organization laid bare." (ibid. p. 139)

This leads on to the two following-comments:

a) "Given however that the rate of profit can rise or fall, with the rate of surplus-value remaining the same, and that all that interests the capitalist in practice is his rate of profit, this circumstance also completely obscures and mystifies the real origin of surplus-value from the very beginning." (ibid. p. 267)

b) "With the transformation of values into prices of production, the very basis for determining value is now removed from view." (ibid. p. 268)

Mystification and Interest

"The fetish character of capital and the representation of this capital fetish are now complete. In M - M' we have the aconceptual (begriffslose) form of capital, the reversal and the reification of the relations of production, in its highest power; the interest-bearing form, the simple form of capital, in which it is taken as logically anterior to its own reproduction process; the ability of money or a commodity to valorize its own value independent of reproduction - the capital mystification in the most flagrant form." (ibid. p. 516)

Mystification and Revenue

It is, however, in the analysis of the trinity formula of capital that Marx shows exhaustively the movement of autonomization which creates reification, which is only the objective affirmation of mystification. Marx synthesizes the relations between mystification and different periods of commodity production in this chapter.

"We have already shown in connection with the most simple categories of the capitalist mode of production and commodity production in general, in connection with commodities and money, the mystifying character that transforms the social relations for which the material elements of wealth serve as bearers in the course of production into properties of these things themselves (commodities), still more explicitly transforming the relation of production itself into a thing (money). All-forms of society are subject to this distortion, in so far as they involve commodity production and monetary circulation. In the capitalist mode of production, however, where capital is the dominant category and forms the specific relation of production, this bewitched and back-to-front world develops much further." (ibid. pp. 965-6)

He then analyses this during formal domination:

"If we view capital first in the immediate process of production, as a pumperout of surplus labour, this relationship is still very simple; the real connection impresses itself on the bearers of this process, the capitalists, themselves, and is still in their consciousness. The fierce struggle over the limits of the working day shows this in a striking way. But even within this immediate sphere, the sphere of the immediate process between labour and capital, the matter does not rest at this simple stage." (ibid. p. 966)

Now we come to the phase of real domination.

"With the development of relative surplus-value (which is what we saw in the Results - ed.) in the specifically capitalist node of production, involving the growth of the productive forces of social labour, these productive forces and. the social context of labour appear in the immediate labour process as shifted from labour to capital. Capital thereby already becomes a very mystical being, since all the productive forces of social labour appear attributable to it and, not to labour as such, as a power springing forth from its own womb. Then the circulation process intervenes, with all sections of capital, even agricultural, participating in it to the same degree, and so develops the specifically capitalist mode of production," (ibid. p. 966)[2]

"Even though this functions simply as a negative limit on the value and surplus-value formation, it gives the appearance of being just as positive a ground as labour itself and of involving a determination independent of labour that arises from the nature of capital." (ibid.)[3]

Finally the last stage:

"Further, however, the actual production process, as the unity of the immediate production process and the process of circulation, produces new configurations (Gestaltungen) in which the threads of the inner connection get more and more lost, the relations of production becoming independent of one another and the components of value ossifying into independent forms." (ibid. p. 967)

This appears bright and clear in the trinity formula of capital:

"In capital-profit (or better still capital-interest), land-ground-rent, labour-wages, this economic trinity as the connection between the components of value and wealth in general and. its sources, the mystification of the capitalist mode of production is completed, the reification of social relations, and the immediate coalescence of the material relations of production with their historical and social specificity: the bewitched, back-to-front and upside-down world haunted by Monsieur Le Capital and Madame La Terre, who are at the same time social characters and mere things.

"This formula also corresponds to the self-interest of the dominant classes, since it preaches the natural necessity and perpetual justification of their sources of income and erects this into a dogma." (Capital III pp. 968-9)

Autonomization ends up by eternalizing social relations. Capital wishes to present itself as a natural fact having existed for all eternity and which has simply continued to improve down the centuries to reach its present perfect form. Hence the reification of social relations expresses, as we have seen, itself in the trinity formula which appears as a justification for the existence of classes. At a more developed stage, capital mediates all relations between men and negates classes. This also is included in its definition of self-valorizing value, it becomes the master of all use-values along with the "expropriation of all individuals of their means of production". Negating class, that is, dissolving the proletariat in the middle classes, masks the fundamental antagonism. All men are slaves of capital. This slavery is expressed in an hierarchical oidering of men's functions regarding capital. Capital fixes them into given social situations so as best to assure the reproduction of its value in process. That is the present form in which the social division of labour now appears.

The domination is finally expressed in the following historical inversion; originally man exploits the earth, through social relations which express his alienation; he exploits the natural wealth. Today man appears as the only wealth which is exploited by the reified social relations which have attained autonomy in the form of capital:

"I enable someone else by means of money etc., to appropriate surplus-value. Thus it is quite in order for me to receive part of this surplus-value. Just as land has value because it enables me to intercept a portion of surplus-value, and I therefore pay for this land only the surplus-value that can be intercepted thanks to it, ..' " (TSV III p. 455)

Capital and the earth have value to the extent that they are a means of exploiting the proletariat so that, through it, value valorizes and produces an increment. The life of capital presupposes the continuous appropriation of living labour. The more the socialization of labour manifests its tendency to fix labour in the form of dead, crystallized, objectified labour, and so to devalorize it, the more capital seeks new means to appropriate new quantities of living labour. From this derives, on the one hand, the profoundly mystifying theory of needs propagated by modern theoreticians, and, on the other band, the reduction of the whole of humanity to slavery. To pose all the labour of the human race as a vital necessity to the capitalist mode of production, is only another way of negating classes.[4]

But this attempt to negate classes would have had no chance of success if there had not been another cause for its birth: the defeat of the world proletariat in the period 1926-28.[5] Mystification means power of capital plus the defeat of the proletariat. Present-day society lives from a momentarily defeated revolution.

Mystification and modern society: capitalism in the garb of communism

Forced to take account of the strength of the proletariat, Stalinist Russia had to disguise itself and realize the triumph of capital under the mask of socialism. This masking was a requirement of the bourgeoisie, as Lenin had remarked in 1905:

"... the bourgeois gentlemen cannot call themselves by their real name yet, any more than they can go out into the street naked."

"But their interests at the moment demand liberty, and liberty cannot be won without the people and the backing of the people cannot be secured unless one calls oneself a "democrat". (= an adherent of the rule of the people), unless one conceals one's monarchism. ('Revolutionary Struggle and Liberal Brokerage', (June 1905) in Collected Works Vol. 8 p. 489)

They used a democratic mask at the beginning of the century as the classes in precapitalist Russian society were not well-defined as yet, and the bourgeois revolution was still to come. The mask was communist after 1926, it was vital to avoid a revolution, the proletarian revolution; the adversary that had to be used: the proletariat.[6]

The mystification is quite real And has this character of reality because capitalism and communism have two common features which give them a common basis:

a) Co-operation.

"As all the developed forms of the capitalist process of production are forms of co-operation, nothing is easier, of course, than to make abstraction from their specifically antagonistic character, and, merely by verbal alterations make them sound like forms of free association. This is what Count A. de Laborde does in De l'esprit d'association dans tous les interets de la communaute, Paris, 1818. H. Carey, the Yankee, occasionally performs this conjuring trick, with similar success, even with the relations prevailing under slavery." (Capital I p. 671 fn. 3)

Carey has had innumerable emulators ever since!

b) The socialization of production. Capital appeared from the very start as a period of social production, according to Marx:

"If then, on the one hand, the capitalist mode of production is a historically necessary condition for the transformation of the labour process into a social process, so, on the other hand, this social form of the labour process. is a method employed by capital for the more profitable exploitation of labour, by increasing its productive power." (Capital I p. 453)

"Co-operation remains the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production, although in its simple shape it continues to appear as one particular form alongside the more developed ones." (ibid. p. 454)

"On the basis of capitalist production, however, extended operations of long duration require greater advances of money capital for a longer time. Production in these branches therefore depends on the limits to the individual capitalist's disposal of the money capital. This barrier is overcome by the credit system and the forms of association related to it, e.g. joint-stock companies." (Capital II p. 433)

Developed capital can now no longer put up with this masquerade and must affirm itself in accordance with its own being. That is why the category of profit is becoming preponderant in Russia. However, the Russians continue to speak of communism for the reason of class conservation. Only the proletariat will be able to unmask this. Now, during the wait, it is unnecessary to discuss this mystification, because it is inherent in the capitalist relations of production. It took this extreme form in Russia simply because the class struggle there reached a height unknown elsewhere. One does not have to discuss this mystification, but instead, one has to show how capital daily engenders it, and this to accomplish the demystifying work of the party which alone can prepare for the assault on the fortresses of imperialism.

This is the case too for the ex-colonial countries which have achieved independence. They have completed their bourgeois revolution in a more or less secondrate mariner, in an historical period when the only revolution necessary to humanity is the communist revolution. All these countries, especially those in which armed struggle has been important, and where, therefore, the proletariat played a determining role, even if not on the basis of its own objectives, are forced to employ this mystification, if they want to build up their capitalism in opposition to world imperialism. The only way in which they can realize primitive accumulation is by presenting it as the construction of socialism. These new states cannot struggle against imperialism by calling for capitalism; if they did that, how would they be able to mobilize the masses in the struggle against the world monster. Their masks is the recognition of the fact that capitalist society has had its day and that communism is the necessary form of the human social future. The proletariat tust proclaim the power and the necessity of communism, show how the development of capital increases its power and, unifies it, forming the very basis of its organization into a class and hence into a party.


1. Hence Hegel, whose philosophy is the interpretation of this inversion.

2. Hence the importance of the study of circulation.

3. Here we can find the answer to the question asked in the Grundrisse does not circulation time intervene in the creation of value. This reply, found in Capital Volume III, is explained in detail in the Grundrisse. We have already demonstrated the importance of circulation in the capitalist system. (Capital is essentially circulating capital,) But we would have to go beyond the bounds of this work to develop this theme.

4. This transformation of all human labour into labour necessary for capital is dealt with exhaustively in the Grundrisse. We broached it in Chapter 4 'Productive and Unproductive Labour', because it is there, on the theoretical level, that capital's mystification operates most strongly. In fact the labour of the middle classes - unproductive consumers - has nothing to do with productive labour for man; it exists only because it is required by the movement of capital.

5. These dates correspond to:

1926: victory of the theory of socialism in a single country inside the Bolshevik Party

1928: victory of the same theory inside the communist international.

6. Lenin wrote in 1915 "To influence the workers, the bourgeois must assume the guise of socialists, Social-Democrats, internationalists, and the like, for otherwise they can exert no influence." ('Social Chauvinist Policy behind a Cover of Internationalist Phrases' in Collected Works Vol. 21 p. 432)