December 7, 2009
Ok – so this reading group is proceeding so slowly that it threatens to escape historical time altogether, and only be visible from a geological perspective… which would be most un-Marxist. A new entry, then.
I finished up last time at the end of part I. This post is about the first bit of part II. Again, it is very much just notes.
So. In part I Marx only considered the scenario in which the technical composition of capital remains constant. [Again, I’m leaving both ‘technical composition’ and ‘value composition’ of capital as rough and ready sort-of-intuitive notions, in terms of interpretation, for now, rather than trying to cash out a proper ratio of constant to variable capital in terms of value or price or some other measure, all of which methods lead one into deep and possibly hot water fairly rapidly, I suspect.] [Turns out I can’t really avoid these issues, see below.] So.
Given the general basis of the capitalist system, a point is reached in the course of accumulation at which the development of the productivity of social labour becomes the most powerful lever of accumulation. [Marx quotes Adam Smith to this effect.]
Capitalism is a system oriented to accumulation. There are plenty of ways one can accumulate – most obviously, I guess, primitive accumulation. But in plenty of scenarios it’s going to be difficult for a given capitalist just to grab or thieve stuff – and a good way to continue accumulation, in these scenarios, is to increase productivity. Capitalism is oriented (in many scenarios) to increasing the productivity of labour.
“Apart from natural conditions” Marx writes,
…the level of social productivity of labour is expressed in the relative extent of the means of production that one worker, during a given time, with the same degree of intensity of labour-power, turns into products.
So, for instance, twice as much fabric is used by the labourer in the making of garments. ‘Means of production’ here means, partly, raw materials entering the production process. ‘Means of production’ also means machinery and so on, though – Marx goes on to write:
the mass of machinery, beasts of burden, mineral manures, drain-pipes, etc. is a condition of the increasing productivity of labour.
The idea here is that more means of production in this sense – more machines, beasts of burden, etc. – is the principal cause of the increase in labour-productivity.
The ratio between constant and variable capital changes for two reasons with increased labour-productivity then: more machines etc. (relative to labour) increases productivity, which in turn means that more raw materials can be processed in the same time, which also changes (in the same direction) the technical composition of capital.
Increase in constant capital relative to variable capital. Change in the value-composition of capital.
This law of the progressive growth of the constant part of capital in comparison with the variable part is confirmed at every step
Marx makes a strong claim here, which I’m going to either assume or pretend he qualifies later on / only means in a limited respect:
The relative magnitude of the part of the price which represents the value of the means of production, or the constant part of capital, is in direct proportion to the progress of accumulation
Actually I think I’m going to have to address this, which strikes me as a really problematic claim more or less any way you turn it. Perhaps I’ll end this post rather peremptorily, and address that issue in the next post.