14 Jul

In his discussion of surplus capital in Notebook IV, Marx writes:

All moments which confronted living labour capacity, and employed it as alien, external powers, and which consumed it under certain conditions independent of itself, are now posited as its own product and result. … This new value which confronts living labour as independent, as engaged in exchange with it, as capital, is the product of labour. (p. 451)

This reads a bit like a “You asked for it!” to the worker, who is supposed to realize that he has forged the chains by which he is bound and is forging new chains for his comrades. The worker will recall a traumatic event that he has repressed, namely the moment when he gave birth to his master.

He has produced not only the alien wealth and his own poverty, but also the relation of this wealth as independent, self-sufficient wealth, relative to himself as the poverty which this wealth consumes, and from which wealth thereby draws new vital spirits into itself, and valorizes itself anew.

In other words, the main product of living labour is the constitutive poverty of the working class.

It no longer seems here … as if capital, for its part, brought with it any value whatever from circulation. Rather, the objective conditions of labour now appear as labour’s product … (p. 453)

Here, although the thrust is the same as before, there is a more encouraging implication: You workers thought that the material preconditions for your productive activity came from the capitalist, that the capitalist gave you what you needed to produce your means of subsistence, and that you depend on him. “But we don’t need no damn capitalist!” they are supposed to exclaim in unison. This is one version of proletarianization: the acceptance of the fundamental and absolute poverty that defines you as pure potential, and the realization that you need nothing from the capitalist. The notion that the capitalist needs the worker but the worker doesn’t need the capitalist is only the first step. The more radical premise asserted by the proletarian is that he needs nothing.


Overcoming Private Production

14 Jun

About halfway through Notebook I we encounter one of the first formulations that appears in the Grundrisse of a way of organizing production not based on exchange values and private appropriation:

“The of all products of labour, all activities and all wealth stands in antithesis not only to a distribution based on a natural or political super- and subordination of individuals to one another … but also to free exchange among individuals who are associated on the basis of common appropriation and control of the means of production” (p. 159).

And then, against the socialists, an affirmation of the necessarily explosive character of the Aufhebung of the capitalist mode of production:

“A mass of antithetical forms of the social unity, whose antithetical character can never be abolished through quiet metamorphosis. On the other hand, if we did not find concealed in society as it is the material conditions of production and the corresponding relations of exchange prerequisite for a classless society, then all attempts to explode it would be quixotic” (p. 159).

The allusion to the famous “material conditions” that need to be ripe in order for revolution to succeed will furnish Lenin and Lukàcs with polemical weapons for attacking “voluntarism” and utopianism, etc.


8 Jun

This passage from p. 102 of the introduction was difficult for me, maybe because I’m unfamiliar with Hegel’s Logic. I tried to clarify it for myself with this color-scheme, where red means the less developed concrete whole and orange means simple relations/categories, while blue means the more developed concrete whole and green means complex relations/categories.

“There would still always remain this much, however, namely that the simple categories are the expressions of relations within which the less developed concrete may have already realized itself before having posited the more manysided connection or relation [i.e. the more complex relation] which is mentally expressed in the more concrete category; while the more developed concrete preserves the same category as a subordinate relation. Money may exist, and did exist historically, before capital existed, before banks existed, before wage labour existed, etc. Thus in this respect it may be said that the simpler category can express the dominant relations of a less developed whole, or those subordinate relations of a more developed whole which already had a historic existence before this whole developed in the direction expressed by a more concrete category.”

Marx makes heavy use of the oppositions abstract vs. concrete, simple vs. complex. When we proceed analytically from the concrete totality, we get to increasingly simple and abstract categories. The totality is concrete and complex, while the relations (and the categories that express them) are abstract and simple. So for example the concrete totality of the capitalist mode of production can be analyzed into simple categories, e.g. money. As a relation, money can be dominant in a less complex totality than capitalism, e.g. in a trading nation like the Roman Empire. In capitalism, a more complex totality, money persists as a subordinate relation. The less complex totality also posits the more concrete categories, e.g. capital, which then determine the development of the more complex totality. Marx clarifies this on p. 103: “Thus although the simpler category [e.g. money] may have existed historically before the more concrete [e.g. capital], it can achieve its full (intensive and extensive) development precisely in a combined form of society [e.g. capitalism], while  the more concrete category [capital] was more fully developed in a less developed form of society [e.g. the Roman Empire].”

For me this raises the question: in what way is a complex category like capital “more fully developed” in a less “mature” form of society like the Roman Empire?

Table 1 from Marx Beyond Marx

7 Jun

This diagram shows the mutation of the six-book plan Marx had for his grand opus Critique of Political Economy (of which the Grundrisse is the basic outline) into the three volumes of Capital.


Study Guide

7 Jun

I don’t know if any of you noticed, but has a study guide for the Grundrisse. It’ll be a great tool if someone decides to invite their child to join.

Here’s the trace left by the 2007 Grundrisse reading group that I mentioned.

I also found a log kept by a London-based reading group from 2011 that has a bibliography and several long posts.