Excerpt from discussion on SPSM listserv on whether Capital can be understood as a "Critique" of Political economy or as "Marxist" political economy, highlighting the view of Juan Inigo.

Paul Zarembka's Accumulation of Capital, its Definition: A Century after Lenin and Luxemburg deserves an exhaustive analysis, since it involves a political meaning for the conscious action of the working class from the beginning to the end.

Given the length of my analysis, I will present it to the list during this week, divided in the following parts:

To avoid any misunderstanding, it must be clear that I will be criticizing Paul's position taking him as the representative of a political point of view, never with a personal meaning.

Part 1: The retreat from dialectics to logical representation, that is to say, from the critique of political economy to marxist political economy

I will begin my analysis by stressing the contrast between Chris Burford's acute observations concerning dialectics and the inversion of the critique of political economy to a Marxist Political Economy and Paul's reply to them:

Chris wrote:

Chris: Money is a social relationship. There should not be a logical contradiction between approaching the subject from more than one angle. There should be a contradiction but it should appear as a dialectical contradiction. This may seem a self-fulfilling argument but if a contradiction of this nature appears to be logical rather than dialectical then we should ask the question whether the author has approached the subject in a thoroughly dialectical way. ... I am not sure that Paul brought out in his historical account Lenin's contributions on this subject, the shifts of emphasis in Lenin's thinking. It was only after he had thoroughly read Hegel's philosophical notebooks that Lenin emphasised the dialectical in his analysis. Previously some of his writing was open to a mechanical materialist interpretation from the influence of Plekhanov. ... Capital Volume I was the most dialectical of Marx's works and attempt to read it in a mechanical way is potentially disastrous. ... Remember that Capital is not a critique of capitalism. It is a critique (which implies not wholly negative) of political economy. Taking Marx's words and turning them into a Marxist Political Economy is potentially dangerous.

Paul replied:

Paul: There is an important aspect of Chris' overall commentary with which I have difficulty and that is his dichotomy of the mechanistic, and Plekhanov- based, interpretation of Marx, Capital specifically, and a dialectical interpretation. I realize that this is a list of many philosophers, but I simply have never understood why Hegel and dialectics is needed or even useful for understanding Marx. From reading Chris, the importance of dialectics seems so obvious to him that he will probably think "wow, is this guy on the moon". But I pick up Hegel and am aware that dialectics is always lurking at least in the background of Marxist debates, yet when I face it I don't know quite what to do. I guess I have been struck by Althusser's work and note that in his late work he even wants to downgrade "dialectical materialism" in favor of "historical materialism" (I could find the relevant source, if needed).

To complete the picture, let us recall Marx's Afterword to the second German edition of "Capital":

"The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel's hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner." ..."In its rational form, it is a scandal and abomination to the bourgeoisie and its doctrinaire speakers, because it includes in the positive comprehension of what exists, at the same time also, it encloses the comprehension of its negation, of its necessary breaking up; because it apprehends every developed form in the flow of its movement, and therefore, also in its perishable facet; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary".

Could someone like Marx, so strict concerning the scientific organization of the working class' revolutionary action and so little prone to paying undeserved homage, felt the necessity to make the point of dialectics explicit just because? Could his reference to the essence of dialectics, which concerning a scientific method means its very form, as being critical and revolutionary come down to a discursive resource?

Certainly not. From the point of view that immediately concerns the discussion of Paul's paper, the core difference here can be synthesized as the methodological difference between political economy and the critique of political economy. More precisely, it is about the difference in the form that each method uses to appropriate in thought the determinations of any real concrete social existence.

As a representation of reality in thought, political economy necessarily gives its first step towards concrete forms by enouncing a definition, a category, a concept. It does not matter here if this starting point actually is the result of an analytical process that has separated that which repeats itself from that it does not, or that someone could believe that it is the product of the economist's sole mind itself. Once given the initial definition, category or concept, it is about adding to it the different aspects that the economist finds to be ...

Paul comments: Is the above meant to convict my paper because its theoretical object of analysis is a definition? A subsection of Bukharin's critique of Luxemburg is entitled "Definition of Accumulation", and in other subsections he spends a lot of energy on her supposed "definition". Does Bukharin have the same object as I do, in spite of my very considerable differences with him?

... relevant for the proper representation of the concrete real form at stake. Each expansion of the initial definition, etc., must strictly follow the logical necessity that structures the representation. Therefore, however far the extension of the original definition could go, it can never logically contradict it. Its only sustain is its own logical coherence. It does not matter here, either, if a formal logic (one that represents determination as an immediate affirmation) or a materialist dialectical logic (one that represents determination as the unity of two opposed immediate affirmations) is used.

For example, if a representation based on formal logic starts by defining the consciousness of the working class as a free one, it can add as many limitations to this freedom as one can imagine. Still, it can never conclude that, given these limitations, the consciousness of the working class is an unfree alienated one. Such a conclusion would destroy its logical coherence. Or, for example, a representation based on a materialist dialectical logic can start by representing the consciousness of the working class as the unity of a free pole and an unfree alienated pole. Consequently, it can develop this basic opposition as the struggle between the particularities added to each of its two poles. Still, under the penalty of destroying its logical coherence, it can never conclude that that is an alienated consciousness only through its determination as a free consciousness, nor that its freedom is the necessary historical product of its own alienation.

Given its form as a reproduction of reality in thought, the critique of political economy necessarily starts its advance towards the concrete form it attempts to appropriate, from the simplest real manifestation of this form itself. Therefore, it cannot start from the enunciation of a definition, a category, a concept, etc., but from an immediate observation. This immediate observation faces it with the fact that that simplest real form is itself an actual existence and a potency to be realized. Hence, the reproduction in question can only give its following step by going analytically inside that actual existence, to look for the necessity whose realization has determined it as such (not to separate what repeats itself from what it does not). ...

Paul comments: Unless I misread Juan, the above paragraph is proposing an empiricist process of knowledge:

"The whole empiricist process of knowledge lies in fact in an operation of the subject called abstraction. To know is to abstract from the real object its essence, the possession of which by the subject is then called knowledge....[T]he categories of empiricism are at the heart of the problematic of classical philosophy;...this problematic, avowed by the eighteen century from Locke to Condillac, is profoundly present in Hegelian philosophy, however paradoxical this may seem..." (Althusser, Reading Capital, pp.35-36, and 38, italics in original).

Once discovered this necessity as such, that is to say, as a potency to be realized, what follows is to ideally reproduce its realization. And this realization brings us back to the initial simplest concrete form. Still, now, we have appropriated in thought the necessity that determines it as an actual existence that, at the same time, is itself another necessity yet to be realized. Therefore, to complete the reproduction of its necessity in thought we need now to ideally follow the realization of its potency. Once we do so, we will be facing again a new realized necessity that carries in itself a potency to be realized. By following this constantly renewed path, we will finally reach the concrete form whose determinations we were aiming at appropriating in thought from the beginning.

The reproduction of real concrete forms in thought, dialectics, operates in this way just because every real concrete form has its existence determined as the realization of an affirmation through self-negation that, at the same time, carries in itself a necessity it can only realize by affirming itself through its own self-negation. Therefore, dialectics is the only way in which we can discover that the free consciousness of the working class is the necessary concrete form taken by its alienated unfree consciousness, and that the development of this alienated unfree consciousness is the necessary concrete form taken by the historical production of free consciousness.

Marx stresses this method by giving almost every chapter of "Capital" (particularly in his finished volume one) a structure that condenses the three steps of dialectics. He starts by pointing out through an immediate observation the simplest form of the real concrete whose necessity is going to be unfolded giving the chapter its unity. Then, he analyses this simplest form to point out the necessity realized in it, until recognizing it as the one whose unfolding has been already appropriated as the object of a previous chapter (only the first chapter deals with the complete analysis of its starting point by itself). Once this recognition has taken place, the exposition follows the realization of the necessity carried as a potency by the simplest initial concrete form up to the point where this necessity could be recognized as the one that determines the simplest expression of the next concrete form.

Paul comments: I would find it useful if Juan work this out in practice for the following important chapters of Capital, Volume 1:

Paul declares the methodological difference between political economy and the critique of political economy, between a logical representation and dialectics, to be meaningless from his point of view. Consequently, since the only method he is aware of is that of political economy, he tries to make the critique of political economy fit in it. Obviously, Paul is not alone in this task. However much they could disagree on any particular aspect, he shares this point of view with those that aim at turning the critique of political economy into a particular branch of this one, into a "marxist political economy."

Paul comments: Actually, I didn't declare a distinction between political economy (logical representation) and critique of political economy (dialectics). Rather, I have not understood the latter (2/10/00: "I simply have never understood why Hegel and dialectics is needed or even useful for understanding Marx"). While I am persuaded that I am not working in a Hegelian tradition, whether the work represents "logical representation" or something else is not so clear to me. I think of myself as engaging in "theoretical practice" a la Althusser who seems to have a different understanding than Juan of 'A Critique of Political Economy': 'To criticize Political Economy' means to confront it with a new problematic and a new object; i.e., to question the very object of Political Economy" (Reading Capital, Chp. 7: "The Object of Political Economy", italics in original).

Since the critique of political economy overflows all the methodological canons of political economy, there is only one procedure at hand to make it fit in them: to cut off the parts this methodology cannot deal with. And the cut and paste tool, taking one phrase here, overlooking a complete section there, shows to be as effective as Procrustes ax to turn a living body into a corpse. Then the pieces of the corpse are passed off as the true living thing by being thrown one against the other as those theoretical opposites that allow political economy to go on and on discussing with itself about abstractions.

Paul comments: Wow. I didn't know I was a part of throwing pieces of a corpse around; it just didn't occur to me that I was ATTACKING dialectics. I rather thought I was ignoring it.

I should add a comment. I have now read Parts 1, 2 , and 3 Juan's posts and he keeps coming back to "critique of political economy" (dialectics). I actually don't understand what is going on and whether there is an agenda I am missing. What puzzles me is that I read Marx's Capital and do NOT have a problem reading him. I read Lenin Development of Capitalism in Russia or State and Revolution and don't have a problem reading him. I read Luxemburg's The Accumulation of Capital and don't have a problem reading her. But I read Juan and I have a problem. I wonder if Juan is attempting to put Marx in a box he wouldn't want to be in.

I remain thankful to Juan for giving my paper a careful reading and will continue to react, particularly in those areas where our curves find a tangent.

Part 2: From the accumulation of capital to "the accumulation of capitalist relations"

Essentially, political economy mutilates the critique of political economy to make it fit into its own methodological canons by substituting the very condition of the latter (to face by oneself the real concrete whose necessity one is attempting to appropriate in thought) with its opposite, an interpretation of texts. Paul's paper starts with a very crude expression of this substitution. Paul accepts the following hypothetical assertion as a legitimate scientific foundation for the accumulation of capital:

Paul: “Late in his theoretical development Marx introduced "labor power" in order distinguish his theoretical concept from "labor" in the classical political economics and from common usage. So too he might have reconsidered "accumulation of capital" and used instead, say, "accumulation of capitalist relations".”

In the first place, labor power is not a theoretical concept introduced to achieve a distinction from the theoretical concepts of political economy or from ordinary ones. Labor power is a concrete real form: the capacity to expend human brains, muscles, etc. to intentionally transform an external object into a different useful thing. Labor is another different concrete real form: the exercise of that capacity. And this is not a dialectical subtlety. As Marx himself exemplifies, everybody knows that there is quite a practical difference between the capacity to digest food and the act of eating. Political economy was unable to distinguish one from the other, and reduced both of them to "labor", for a good reason. What Marx does is to discover that, beyond the appearance consisting in the selling by the laborer of his labor for its value (to which corresponds the immediate appearance of wages as the payment for the laborer's complete labor), what the laborer sells is his labor power for its value. And this value is less than the value produced by the use by the capitalist of the laborer's labor power, that is to say, by the living labor this labor power transforms itself in. Therefore, the buying and selling of labor power involves in reality an exchange of equivalents, and hence the corresponding inverted free consciousness of the laborer, while, at the same time, the realization of the use value of this commodity by the capitalist, the worker's surplus labor, produces a surplus value. Moreover, when capital determines a part of the working class as a surplus population, it does not transform the labor of this surplus population into a socially useless expenditure, but its labor power into a socially useless capacity.

Paul comments: I don't know why the above paragraph appears in Juan's critique. Everything after the first sentence seems to be basic Marxism which few or none of us on this list would disagree. I hazard that Juan hinges this paragraph on the first sentence, that he is saying that the concept of labor power does not arise from a dialogue of Marx's with classical political economy, but rather from Marx's dialectical understanding.

In the second place, presenting one of Marx's developments in his own research as an indicator of the possibility of any other assertion one would want to have him making falls short of any scientific method whatsoever. Only a science that has retreated itself from its progressive historical role to the point of degrading scientific method to an interpretation of texts could take such an aberration as a possible first step for any scientific foundation.

Paul comments: I was not intending my remark as "proof" of anything. The remark could be deleted without any loss to the argument of the paper.

Still, let us move forward. Through dialectics, Marx discovers what follows. In capitalism, the material product of labor is at the same time the concrete form taken by its opposite, the general social relation that rules human production. Commodities are this materialized social relation. The consciousness and will of the owners of commodities are determined as the personifications of the determinations of commodities themselves. The exchange of commodities shows that, to realize the general social relation embodied in them, commodities separate from them one that, for being the material product of a concrete private labor, becomes the general representative of abstract social labor, money. The course of the process of exchange shows that the determination of money does not stop with it as the general mediator in circulation, but with it as the concrete immediate end of social production. The circuit of money as capital shows that the end of social production is not money itself, but the production of more substantiated value, the valorization of value. The materialized general social relation manifests itself as the concrete subject that puts into action social labor with the direct object of producing more of itself. Therefore, it shows that what at first appeared as a production of use values socially organized through their value-form, actually is a production of surplus value that renders use values, and hence human beings, only in the proportion that capital needs them as capitalists and wage-laborers for its self-valorization. The material product of social labor faces its producers themselves as the alienated power that through its autonomic movement collectively produces them as a class that necessarily gets into an antagonistic direct relationship with the opposite personification of capital, the capitalist class. The accumulation of capital is the realization of the necessity of this materialized general social relation to produce more of itself, not just inside each of its turnover circuits, but from one circuit to the next through the transformation of surplus value into new capital.

Paul comments: The last sentence is from a long paragraph beginning "Still, let us move forward". The sentence appears to be significant. I'll remain on "hold" for Parts III and IV.

These discoveries are impossible to digest from political economy's logical point of view. From this logical point of view, material things are material things, and social relations are social relations, being no way that one could be the other. At the same time, being social relations a direct attribute of human beings, it is doubly logically impossible that a materialized social relationship could become the subject itself of social life. Therefore, political economy only can deal with the discoveries produced by dialectics, by degrading everything to a matter of enouncing abstract definitions. Joan Robinson, that from Paul's point of view looks like someone that "took Marx seriously", consecrates this procedure with the insuperable synthesis that can only be achieved by the stupidity of academic authoritarian pedantry: "Any intrinsic meaning that the concept of value could have had for a disciple of Hegel, to the modern English reader it is only a matter of definition." (An Essay on Marxian Economics).

Paul comments: It is kind of interesting that the only two books (at least which I know of) on the theoretical subject of "accumulation of capital" were written by women. I don't know quite what to make of it, but the academic world of economists is heavily male. Anyway, it is clear that Joan Robinson was not a Marxist and therefore it is easy to object to textual material from her on Marx. On the other hand, she was clearly intelligent and clearly progressive (one of the spokespersons for the "Cambridge" critique of neoclassical economics). ...

Consequently, Paul applies the logic of political economy to Marx's discoveries, to produce the theoretical definition he will oppose to his own one:

Paul: “Marx broke theoretically with basic theoretical principles of classical political economy, but not as decisively on the issue of accumulation of capital as could be expected. Fundamentally, Marx used the word "capital" to refer to the relationship of the capitalist class and the class of wage laborers. If Marx redefined "capital" to refer to a class relation, surely, it would also apply in the case of discussing the accumulation of that class relation.”

Capital has been turned into a lifeless abstraction. It is not a materialized general social relation that autonomously constitutes itself as the concrete subject of social production through the actions of the classes that personify its determinations any more. On the contrary, it is reduced to its own immediate appearance: a direct relation established by two independent social subjects, the classes, that determine themselves by themselves. Once this inverted reduction has been achieved, logic says that, if capital is that relation, the accumulation of capital could not be the accumulation of the materialized general social relation, but the accumulation of this in appearance direct relation among classes. And Paul finds Marx to be held responsible for these manipulations, since Paul finds the critical and revolutionary essence of dialectics not decisive enough to satisfy the expectations of ... political economy.

Paul comments: I don't understand. How could I be interpreted to be saying that a "class relation" is a "lifeless abstraction"? Or is all theory a "lifeless abstraction"? Or am I missing something?

The field is ready for Paul's own definition to be presented.

Paul comments: No, it is not ready. There are 35-40 pages between the introduction -- where the only quotations from the paper are being offered so far by Juan (except three words of mine on Joan Robinson) -- and the conclusion -- where the definition for accumulation of capital is offered.

Thanks for your detailed comments, Juan, and I look forward to the balance.


Gerald Levy (Jerry) wrote:

Jerry: While a critique of political economy is part of what Marx wanted to do in Capital (or, more precisely, this was , part of the process of presenting a reconstruction of capitalism in thought), it is only part. Indeed, to emphasize that Capital is primarily a critique of political economy is both one-sided and is in contradiction to what Marx tells us he plans to do. ... Then, he tells us what his "aim" is. Is his "aim" to critique political economy? No, he has a much grander purpose: ... Thus, the purpose of Capital is not primarily a critique of political economy. Rather, critique is a means through which the subject matter -- capitalism -- is developed and presented.

But of course. Capital is in itself the form taken by the process in which the alienated consciousness of the working class produces itself as an alienated consciousness that is aware of its own alienation and of the historical powers it gets from this alienation that necessarily produces the material conditions for the general conscious (hence, free) organization of social life, developed for the first time up to its general determinations concerning the revolutionary action of the working class in which the said historical powers necessarily realize themselves, and under a shape that enables its direct social reproduction (a book).

That is why the direct subject of Capital is the materialized general social relation that has constituted itself into the alienated concrete subject of social life, capital, and not the consciousness of the working class by itself. And that is why Capital is in itself the critique of political economy, that is to say, the critique of the scientific representation of the general organization of social production and consumption (hence, of social life) based on the appearance that free consciousness is the abstract opposite of alienated consciousness, instead of being its present-day concrete form that carries in itself the necessity of overcoming itself as such through its own development as such.

Still, it would be very enlightening if Jerry could forward to the list the concrete quotation of the assertion that he is supposedly questioning, since nobody posted to the list something that could even remotely suggest such an assertion. Otherwise, someone could believe that Jerry has attempted to produce a straw man here.

Jerry: As for complaints about the use of the term "Marxist political economy", I suppose we could quibble about the term "Marxism" and point out that Marx did not consider himself to be a Marxist, but that would indeed be quibbling. We could also point out that Marxism involves more than just a political-economic component, but who said otherwise? Consequently, I think that the objection to "Marxist political economy" or even "Marxist economics" is a shallow, hollow, and -- indeed -- trivial objection.

I could but to agree with Jerry's objections to quibiling about the terms Marxism or Marxist Political Economy. That is why I sent to the list that lengthy post pointing out how the difference between the critique of political economy and any sort of political economy (Marxist included) is rooted in the very form of their respective methods. I even presented an example to show the concrete scope of these differences. So yes, bringing down the discussion to a matter of "quibbling about the term 'Marxism'" by completely disregarding the essential question of method and its concrete results actually "is a shallow, hollow, and — indeed — trivial objection."

Part 3: From the accumulation of capital to the unity of Luxemburg's outsiders with a laboring population abstracted from its determination by relative surplus value.

The foundation of Paul's definition of capital accumulation starts with:

Paul: All of this brings us back to the definition of accumulation of capital. Luxemburg was able to establish that realization of increasing production inside the logic of a purely capitalist system of capital and wage labor is impossible.

Paul has shown how close to political economy, and how far from the method of the critique of political economy, Luxemburg considers herself:

Paul: Luxemburg had taught Marxist economic theory for many years at the party school in Berlin, was known as an enthusiastic and popular teacher, and had been preparing an Introduction to Political Economy. ...

However, in full openness, I think part of my sympathy with Luxemburg (but only a small part) is that she in 1915 wrote a letter expressing disdain for Hegelian element in Marx's Capital (although, actually, I don't think it is so much there).

Then, Paul presented the following synthesis about Luxemburg's critique of Marx:

Paul: "Marx wrote Capital about an economy only capitalist without other social classes than capitalists and workers (although landlords, to some extent). Marx was quite aware, said Luxemburg, of the existence of other classes and his delimitation of his theoretical project to be theory of a purely capitalist was only a theoretical posture to understand capitalism. However, according to Luxemburg, this delimitation got Marx into trouble analyzing the accumulation of capital. Luxemburg proceeded by logical deduction: If the economy were simply capitalist and nothing but capitalist, consider potential uses of surplus value. A capitalist must market products produced, but there are only two basic classes, capitalists and workers. Capitalists sell to workers basic subsistence but oppose anything further. They sell to themselves subsistence, and luxury goods. But there are only so many luxury goods capitalists can consume, and the drive within capitalism is quite distinctly for accumulation, not merely luxury consumption. So their only other outlet is marketing means of production. Whatever the short term possibilities for marketing more and more means of production, with no other outlet (civil servants, military, academics, clergy, etc., being considered hangers on to capitalists) the system must reach an impasse. Thus, constant creation of a home market and/or imperialism into areas not yet, or not fully, capitalist is necessary".

Paul's description of Luxemburg's construction omits a fundamental step. How is it that she concludes that "their only other outlet is marketing means of production"? She starts by pointing out that the direct object of capitalist production is the production of surplus value, and not that of use values to satisfy human necessities. And she points out that accumulation is the expanded reproduction of the production of surplus value. Then she starts to analyze the schemes of reproduction. Now, the accumulation of capital is a process that takes concrete shape through a simultaneous process of expansion of the production of means of production and of means of consumption for the laborers in which the part of the surplus value that will be transformed into new capital materializes itself. In essence, the mix between them is determined (under the concrete form that corresponds to the autonomous organization of social labor, of a tendency that can only impose itself through constant fluctuations) by the technical composition reached by capital at each time in its process of accumulation. Therefore, the schemes that represent the reproduction, simple or extended, of capital are, in themselves, systems of simultaneous equations. Yet, their virtue precisely resides in that they enable the representation of the determinations at stake in a sequential analytical progression.

Now, Luxemburg starts this sequential analysis and, suddenly, she finds herself asking: why the part of social capital that produces means of consumption for the laborers should materialize its surplus value in an increased production of them if there does not exist a demand able to realize this surplus value outside the laborers themselves? The answer is obvious: this expanded production of means of consumption for the laborers allows social capital to buy more labor power, putting into action more living labor, and therefore appropriating more surplus value. This is the very object of accumulation, and was clearly present at the starting point of the schematic representation. Does this involve any problem concerning the realization of the surplus value embodied in the additional means of consumption for the laborers? Not at all. The additional laborers are selling for the first time their labor power to the capitalists for its value. Therefore, capital enables them for the first time to directly buy by themselves the previously expanded production of means of consumption to produce their additional labor power by individually consuming them. And, on buying these means of consumption, they realize the surplus value embodied in them. Only after this first buying and selling of the additional labor power has taken place, the individual consumption of the formerly- additional laborers becomes a part in the current reproduction of the materiality of the variable capital productively consumed. Hence, only then the individual consumption of the laborers disappears from the point of view of social capital as a source for the realization of the surplus value they themselves produce. Yet, by then, the accumulation of capital has already moved forward by expanding again the labor power it puts into action. When the accumulation of capital is based on the production of absolute surplus value (which is the case that Luxemburg takes into account), the immediate source of the additional labor power is the natural increase in the laboring population (something that Marx carefully considers in Capital).

If reality were to be coherently fitted into the rigidities of the schemes, all the question would come down to the fact that the selling of the means of consumption for the old and new laborers on credit must be considered a necessary constructive assumption. Instead, Luxemburg makes such a mess out of the mechanics of the schemes that she mistakes it for the real determinations of the accumulation of capital. She is even unable to see that the value of the labor power of the parents ceases to include the unproductive reproduction of the following generation at a certain stage of this one's life, transforming this new generation not only in the replacement of the previous one, but in the source for the expanded extraction of surplus value.

Consequently, Luxemburg completely misses the obvious answer to the question she is making. Still, since she applies the methodological criterions of political economy, she finds no problem in starting claiming about a supposed failure of Marx to solve the "problem". And she enounces that she had proved that the accumulation of capital is impossible without the presence of third persons that are outside of it, who realize the otherwise supposedly unrealizable part of surplus value by buying the commodities in which it is embodied.

The incoherence needed to postulate the existence of these outsiders as a condition for the realization of surplus value is obvious even when one considers the basic attribute they must satisfy: they must be able to buy without having to sell. If they sell anything, whether to the capitalists or to the wage laborers, in order to buy the expanded production that embodies the supposed unrealizable surplus value, the situation would remain essentially the same as the initial one. The surplus value would be still pending of realization in the capitalist's hands, only that now under the material shapes of the use values they bought from the outsiders, or of the use values that they were unable to sell to the laborers given the competition of the outsiders. In Luxemburg's terms, where would the capitalists find the expanded demand for the means of consumption they have bought from the outsiders against the selling of the commodities in which their surplus value was embodied? In other words, the third persons must be the owners of substantiated value (money) but, at the same time, their social product must not have a value-form.

Yet, to openly accept that her postulated outsiders are buyers freed from the necessity to sell would mean to accept that her construction has no basis in real determinations. Luxemburg finds no problem in hiding away this fact just by asserting on passing that "capital needs that all non-capitalist layers and societies transform themselves into buyers of commodities and that they sell to it their products." (chapter 28). At this stage, the disdain for dialectics needed to turn the critique of political economy into a marxist system of political economy shows it has turned itself into the logic incoherence of this system. Still, political economy finds Luxemburg's incoherence rather fascinating.

Thus far, according to Paul's definition, the accumulation of capital is the general social relation among the capitalists and the wage- laborers that can only exist through the mediation of some outsiders. Therefore, the accumulation of capital must be a social relation among the capitalists, the wage-laborers and the third persons, who, by definition, should be outsiders for this, their own social relation. Given this incoherence, in the second part of Paul's definition, these ubiquitous third persons are pushed out of the picture:

Paul: "We therefore offer for accumulation of capital the following definition: "accumulation of capital is increase of proletarian labor and associated constant capital" or, in more modern language, "accumulation of capital is increase of wage labor and associated constant capital". "

It must be noticed that when Paul refers to "increase of wage-labor" he is explicitly meaning employed wage-labor and not merely laboring population. That is why he points out:

Paul: "Increased wage labor could come from 1) longer work hours, 2) drawing in of new sections of the population such as women and children, 3) population increase, and 4) new proletarianizations concomitant with creation of home markets and markets abroad. ... In any case, if there is no increase in wage labor, there is no accumulation under our definition. "

Let us leave aside for the time being what happens with accumulation under Paul's definition, and look at what happens with accumulation in the real world; something that Marx discovered.

The materialized general social relation has as its immediate object the production of more of itself. Under the generic form it presents in circulation, capital shows that its self-valorization, hence social production, can only be ruled by doing away with any qualitative determination other than that of its quantitative undifferentiated increase. Yet, the valorization of capital can only take concrete form through its differentiation between variable capital and constant capital. The portion of capital that takes the material form of labor power is able to valorize itself. On the contrary, the portion materialized in the means of production is unable to expand its own value, and rather prone to lose it. Nevertheless, its existence is an unavoidable condition for the valorization of variable capital. Therefore, it seems that the only possibility to expand capital's valorization is to expand the amount of labor power productively consumed by extending the working-day. And that the only possibility to expand the progression of valorization from one circuit to the next, accumulation, is to expand the quantity of the laborers put into action. Yet, these extensions show their own absolute limit, thus showing that to overcome any qualitative limitation capital needs to turn them into internal quantitative ones.

The advance in the production of absolute surplus value takes the concrete form of the production of relative surplus value. The production of relative surplus value takes shape by increasing the productivity of labor through the laborers' cooperation. Under its simplest forms, as simple cooperation and cooperation based on the division of labor in manufactory, the increase in productivity generates a progressive increase in the proportion of constant capital to variable capital. Still, this increase transforms itself in the very basis of the most powerful concrete form of producing relative surplus value, the cooperation based on the machinery system of the great industry. Moreover, to increase its power to self-valorize, capital has to expand its constant part at the expense of its variable part. That is to say, to advance in its self-valorization, capital has to increase the part of it unable to valorize by itself, at the expense of the only part that is able to do so.

The dead labor of the working class (constant capital) faces it as an alien power, exercised by the capitalist class, that increases its size at the same time that the amount of the living labor put into action becomes progressively restricted in relative terms. The clue of this process lies in the distinction between the value of labor power and the value produced by living labor. While total living labor goes relatively down, its unpaid part, surplus labor, goes up.

The immediate effect of the relative decrease of the participation of variable capital in total capital with accumulation, is that an absolute increasing part of the working class becomes transformed into a laboring surplus population for the immediate needs of the concrete social subject, capital, and hence for this population itself. Capitalism does not collide against a lack of laboring population, but transforms an increasing part of it in an excess of laboring population. And, of course, capital knows how to profit from it too. Today, the existence of the effectively unemployed laboring surplus population pushes the wages of the generality of the employed laborers below its value, while a substantial part of these employed laborers are actually members of the stagnant surplus population, that can only sell their labor power for less than its value.

Thus far, we have seen that the increase in the extraction of surplus value from living labor emerges from a process that reduces living labor in relative terms vis a vis the increase in dead labor as the accumulation of capital develops itself. The proportion of this relative decrease depends on the speed in which the increase in the productivity of labor takes place, the speed of the increase of constant capital needed to achieve the former increase, and the rate of surplus value. Therefore, given the proper proportions, the accumulation of capital can take concrete form through, not a relative decrease, but an absolute decrease in the amount of the living labor that sustains it. Again, a diminished amount of living labor in absolute terms can produce an increased absolute amount of surplus value.

There is no problem here for the realization of the surplus value materialized in the means of consumption whose additional labor will expand the accumulation of capital. It only happens that the net decrease in total living labor involves two opposite movements. On the one hand, a part of what was up to then the existing variable capital reinitiates its circuit of turnover by being transformed into the increased dead labor that now corresponds to the increased technical composition of capital. Therefore, the corresponding part of living labor is expelled into surplus laboring population. At the same time, the social scale of the production of means of consumption for the laborers would had been correspondingly reduced, while the production of means of production would had been expanded. On the other hand, the new capital in which surplus value will be transformed, demands the incorporation of new living labor. Therefore, it enables the corresponding part of the additionally available labor power to be sold for its value, thus realizing the surplus value embodied in the expanded production of means of consumption aimed at producing it. All the secret involved in the expansion of accumulation while living labor diminishes in absolute terms is that the expulsion of labor power that was active up to then, originated in the increase of the organic composition of existing capital, overwhelms the increase in the demand for labor power originated in accumulation.

In fact, the new sellers of labor power would be the same individuals that have just lost their capacity to reproduce it as a consequence of having been expelled from the reproduction of existing capital. The only specific meaning that this absolute reduction in the employed laboring population has from the point of view of the accumulation of capital, is the corresponding acceleration in the transformation of an increasing part of the working class into a laboring surplus population.

On the basis of having abstracted from the materialized character of the social relation that capital is, Paul's definition of accumulation is doubly incongruent with respect to the real determinations of the accumulation of capital: this accumulation does not only produce an increased laboring surplus population from where it can draw the additional living labor it needs to feed itself, but nothing impedes it to go on expanding itself while at the same time it decreases the absolute amount of the living labor it puts into action. Moreover, as soon as the laboring surplus population reaches an amount that becomes uncomfortable for the accumulation of capital (for example, because some amount of surplus value is needed to feed a part of the surplus population that capital will never need at all, or to keep the surplus population under military control), this accumulation necessarily takes concrete form by freeing itself of this dead weight through the massive slaughtering of that population. In this case, the accumulation of capital does not only advance by reducing in relative, or even absolute terms, the employed living labor, and by expanding the laboring surplus population in absolute terms, but by reducing the total working class in absolute terms.

Nevertheless, there is a contradiction involved here from the point of view of the accumulation of capital. The production of relative surplus value needs an increased market to realize the expanded material product coming from the increased productivity of labor. The accumulation of capital introduces a specific restriction to this expansion in what concerns the demand for the means of consumption of the wage-laborers. Since variable capital increases itself at a slower pace than constant capital (let alone the possibility of its absolute contraction), the space left for the increase in productivity starts to crash against a specific limit, albeit social consumption is determined in perfect agreement with the necessities of the accumulation of capital (no under- consumption whatsoever). This specific limit enters the determination of the necessarily cyclical form of the accumulation of capital, but does not introduce any absolute limitation to it. Mistaking the latter for the former is another achievement of the inversion of the critique of political economy into a particular system of political economy.

Jerry: While a critique of political economy is part of what Marx wanted to do in Capital (or, more precisely, this was , part of the process of presenting a reconstruction of capitalism in thought), it is only part. Indeed, to emphasize that Capital is primarily a critique of political economy is both one-sided and is in contradiction to what Marx tells us he plans to do.

Thus, in the Preface to the First Edition, he writes:

"What I have to examine in this work is the capitalist mode of production and the relations of production and forms of intercourse that correspond to it" (Penguin ed, p. 90).

Then, he tells us what his "aim" is. Is his "aim" to critique political economy? No, he has a much grander purpose:

"it is the ultimate aim of this work to reveal the economic law of motion of modern society (Ibid. p. 92).

Thus, the purpose of Capital is not primarily a critique of political economy. Rather, critique is a means through which the subject matter — capitalism — is developed and presented.

As for complaints about the use of the term "Marxist political economy", I suppose we could quibble about the term "Marxism" and point out that Marx did not consider himself to be a Marxist, but that would indeed be quibbling. We could also point out that Marxism involves more than just a political-economic component, but who said otherwise? Consequently, I think that the objection to "Marxist political economy" or even "Marxist economics" is a shallow, hollow, and -- indeed -- trivial objection.



These are powerful arguments.

I wanted to go back to check the way Cyril Smith puts it in his book Marx at the Millenium (Pluto Press, London. 1996) p 75.

"In the 'Marxist' tradition, it was assumed that he was trying to provide a better, 'Marxist'/socialist economics. I think this is completely false. For Marx, 'critique' did not at all mean showing that a particular set of views was wrong and replacing it with another set. He was not interested in the straightforward rejection of the conclusions reached by economists about the work of a mechanical system called 'capitalism'. Nor did he follow this up by showing them how their job should really be done. (By the way, 'capitalism' was a word Marx hardly ever used.)

Marx saw the work of the great classical political economists as investigating the social relations of the modern world, which they believed expressed 'human nature'. (There is an analogy with the way Marx viewed the ideas of Hegel, which is outlined in the Appendix to Chapter 4.) Marx's critique of political economy was his way in to the understanding of modern social relations and an essential prerequisite for their supersession.

What he wanted to do was to trace, in the most highly developed work of bourgeois thought, the 'inner coherence' of the various forms of social relations whose inhumanity had come to appear natural. Vulgar economics was not much use for this purpose: all one can do with it is marvel at its inanity.

But Smith, Ricardo and James Mill were tremendously helpful. Unlike their successors, they were striving to find an objective explanation of the huge social and economic developments unfolding in Europe during their lifetimes. What made them important for Marx was that, when they tried to develop the 'laws of private property', they sought to explain rationally what was essentially irrational, crazy."

So Cyril Smith.

While I have reservations about the emphasis in his book on a sort of humanist solution to alientation, his argument about the role of a critique to Marx, is interesting. Arguably I think it is not counterposed to what Jerry argued. But perhaps others would disagree.

Chris Burford