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.


One has to establish a chronology of Marx's works on economics in order to understand the importance of this unpublished chapter of Capital; all the more so because Marx was unable to complete this work. It is vital to discover the common framework, the central preoccupation around which all the works are orientated. Marx himself indicated the line of their development. He speaks in the 'Preface' to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy of the starting-point provided by Engels' brilliant sketch of the critique of the categories of political economy. This had come ready made, so as to speak. Marx had already shown that the different developments of human activity had one and the same basis: economic production; that on the mode of production depended all other manifestations of human activity, thought in particular. Instead of studying the human consciousness as an independent product, one had to understand the real human life-process. This reversal is given in an extraordinarily, concise form in the famous Theses on Feuerbach but it was in the German Ideology that he elaborated the method which would be clearly and precisely defined as historical materialism in the 'Preface' to the Contribution... . He attempts to demonstrate the new theory in this work: to prove that the economic and social factors are the determining ones. This is why it both contains an initial sketch of what later became the introduction to the critique of political economy (an exposition of the method and plan of the entire work) and outlines the forms that precede capitalist production: the periodization of human history. This was in perfect coherence with the doctrine: history is the only true science. This study did not see the light of day as a definitive work (it was abandoned to the gnawing criticism of mice). Marx and Engels were not excessively attached to it, but its elaboration had allowed them, above all, to attain clarity with the new framework and to master the new theory. Meanwhile, Marx worked actively on a study on economics, which Engels mentions in a letter dated January 20th. 1845:

"See that you finish soon your book on political economy, even if you still should be dissatisfied with much." (Engels to Marx, 20.1.1845 in MESC p. 22)

Marx also makes mention of the same subject in a letter to Leske:

"Through a friend of the gentlemen, the publication of my Critique of the Economy etc., was, moreover, as good as assured." (Marx to Leske, 1.8.18. In Padover ei. p. 42)

This too remained unpublished during the author's lifetime. It was published after the death of the two friends and translated into English as Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.

For all that, Marx did not abandon his economic studies and in 1847 he had published The Poverty of Philosophy in reply to Proudhon. This is, in a sense, a resume of the preceding work. It concludes the critique of philosophy in the same terms in which it had been conducted in the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law and On the Jewish Question: it is the proletariat that emancipates human society. Further, here he describes the real movement of this emancipation, the class constituting itself as party. This implies a precise definition of this society and a characterization of future society. 1847 is also the year of The Manifesto of the Communist Party. The workers' movement had to have its programme, especially as this movement was increasing (as Marx described in The Poverty of Philosophy) the Manifesto condenses the essence of all the workers' struggles in the past, both theoretically and practically, and illuminates it with the plain and clear affirmation of communism: but communism stripped of all utopianism, because it is presented for what it is - the real movement of society, of the proletariat towards its emancipation.

Marx's economic works are not at all academic, but are meant for the proletariat, to serve as weapons for its struggle. Thus in 1849 he condensed the results of his research into a series of conferences held in Bruxelles - Wage labour and Capital. When the revolutionary wave ebbed, Marx resumed the great economic work that he had undertaken but, as we have already noted, had been unable to publish at the proper moment before the revolution. The programme launched in 1847 needed an unshakeable basis. Marx continued his studies and in 1859 published A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. This was to mark the starting point of an extremely large work that he would have prefered to have published as a whole in one chunk. However, he was forced to speed-up its publication because of the economic stupidities being spread-about by many socialist propagandists, Lassalle in particular. The work especially dealt with value during simple commodity circulation and during the transformation of money into capital. But it was too dense and synthetic. Marx wanted simultaneously to provide the critique of the base and the superstructures, an explanation of real phenomena and the theories derived (what was to become the Theories of Surplus Value):

'It is at the same time an expose of the system and, through this expose a critique of it." (Marx to Lassalle, 22.2.1858. in MESC p. 96)

Hence the double plan of the work: exposition of the economic phenomena and the critique of the different theories put forward concerning the phenomena being studied[1]. It was probably due to this over-dialectical exposition (flirt with Hegel!) that the Contribution was unsuccessful.

Capital appeared when the labour movement was on the upsurge in two of the largest centres at the time; Germany and France. The exposition is more didactic and constitutes the real programme of the proletariat for its emancipation. One can say that it was claimed by the working class, which needed a critical and constructive arm for its daily struggle against capital and the wider struggle leading to capital's destruction. This is the meaning of Marx's exposition to the IWMA at more or less the same time called Wages Price and Profit.

As is known, only Capital Volume I was published in the author's lifetime. The two other volumes were published by Engels, but he too was unable to complete publication of the work and a large quantity of manuscripts was left over. Kautsky issued only the equivalent of the fourth volume, Theories of Surplus Value. There still remained the Grundrisse published in German just before the Second World War, the Results of the Immediate Process of Production and certainly many other works, especially on the agrarian question.

The study of all these works shows that Marx confronted the critique of political economy in four different ways. The first is that of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts: wage labour is the basis of capitalist society, since capital is merely objectified labour. Marx explains the alienation about which Hegel wrote: all history is the product of human labour, not only of theoretical and intellectual labour, but also of all labour, of real human activity. Alienation exists in practical life, in real life. It derives from the fact that man has become a commodity in bourgeois society. However, Marx remains largely on the enemy's terrain, in the sense that, like the philosophers and therefore Hegel, he confronts the problem starting from man, from the subject, while the question is: how is the subject itself produced? This also explains why he speaks first of wages, then of capital and landed property, going on later to analyse property in bourgeois society and in communist society. To some extent, therefore, it is the opposite to what he will do later:

" analytic method, which does not start from Man but from the economically given period of society, has nothing in common..." (Notes on Wagner p. 52)

The procedure is, therefore, still subjective. It is true that man lies at the centre of the problem (not man as an isolated individual, but rather, social man, the human species; this being already a refutation of the bourgeois position), but one must also show the economic conditions that produce him. It was still too much just a simple refutation of Hegel. Now man can only be the subject in communist society. In class society he is alienated and therefore an object. Whether one is dealing with a proletarian or a bourgeois, it simply means that capital is the subject:

"He who was previously the money-owner now strides out in front as the capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his worker. The one smirks self-importantly and is intent on business; the other is timid and holds back, like someone who has brought his own hide to market and now has nothing else to expect but - a tanning." (Capital I p. 280)

The importance of the Manuscripts lies in the fact that they register the birth-certificate of communism. In the polemic with the economists, Marx discovers the future form of society, just as he had seen it, felt it in his struggle against Hegel's philosophy and in On the Jewish Question. But now he goes further, because he defines its economic base.

The second way of confronting the critique of political economy is that provided by the Contribution and by Capital Marx starts with something that can easily be established - the commodity (as Lenin says), so as to be able to introduce the problem of value, its different forms, and then to return to simple commodity circulation and to the appearance of capital. Wage-labour, inasmuch as it produces surplus value, then appears to explain the genesis of capital, the genesis of the increase in value without which no formation of capital can occur. This is done by analysing the immediate process of production:

"What I start from is the simplest social form in which the labour product is represented in contemporary society, and this is the 'commodity'. I analyse this, and indeed, first in the form in which it appears." (Notes on Wagner p. 50)

The third way is in the fragment of the original version (Urtext) of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Marx confronts the problem in the most general way possible the birth of value - and poses the question: how can value achieve autonomy (an established fact in bourgeois society), ceasing to be strictly dependent on the conditions that generated it?

The fourth and last way is to be found in the chapter of the Grundrisse, 'Forms which precede capitalist production'. Capitalism can only develop on condition that it frees man and makes him into a commodity. But to do so, it has to destroy the various communities which encompassed him, which were governed, in a more or less debased way, by an economy in which man was the aim of production. In a certain sense, this means the study of the obstacles which hindered capitalist development, the social inertia caused by the various communities, most especially in the Asiatic mode of production, which still survives in India, for example, and makes the economic development of that country so difficult.

The Results of the Immediate Process of Production lies where these various methods of exposition converge, and just for this reason allows us to understand the entire work. In a way it provides a key, not to understand Capital which is self-sufficient, but to the entire work surrounding it. It allows one to establish connections between works with no seeming interrelationship; it shows the absolute coherence of the whole theory.

All the works that have been mentioned are really only fragments of a single one. This is why it may seem that Marx had different preoccupations, different ways of confronting one and the same problem, because his work could not be published in its entirety. His different plans are illuminating in this respect. Marx provides a simple modification of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts plan in the Contribution for the reasons given in the observations about this work. In the preface to the Contribution he writes:

"I examine the system of bourgeois economy in the following order: capital, landed property, wage-labour; the State, foreign trade, world market. The economic conditions of the existence of the three great classes into which modern bourgeois society is divided are analysed under the first three headings; the interconnection of the other three headings is self-evident." (Contribution p. 19)

This is the same as the plan sent to Engels (Marx to Engels, 2.4.1858. in MEW B. 29 pp.311-18). Marx provides an even more detailed plan in Notebook 18 of 1862, although the fundamental points for the subdivision of the work are identical. Marx indicates "the combination of absolute and relative surplus-value. (...) Productive and unproductive labour." (TSV I p. 414) under point 5. Elsewhere in the sketch of a plan in 1859, he subdivides the study of the same process in the following way:

"1) Transformation of money into capital

α) transition...

β) Exchange between capital and labour power (Arbeitsvermogen)..

γ) the labour process...

δ)the valorization process..." (Grundrisse German ed. pp. 969-71)

Points γ) δ) are the first two to be considered in the Results. Consequently, this text must be analysed in conjunction with the other texts mentioned in order to make a correct appraisal.

Two main questions emerge from all these works (be they completed, or as plans and sketches): 1. the origin of value, its characteristics and forms; 2. the origin of the free worker, the wage-labourer. We shall deal with them in this order and analyse the consequences they imply.

1. This is also Hegel's method in the Science of Logic (note of May 1972)