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Some thoughts on Marx

Some thoughts on Marx

Marx’s description of capitalism is closer to 2011 than 1848. In 1848 industry was isolated to Britain and there it was organized around families. (not so sure about this but will accept it)

Assumptions that Marx makes is that he tends to see competition as leading to solidarity among workers instead of leading them to rip each other apart. But he does say that some of the bourgeois will have the political awareness to make it all happen.

What are the conditions under which worker solidarity prevail? In 1848 the state belonged and worked for propertied elite. so for Marx there could be no recourse to the state in the form of social democracy for workers.

Marxism took root in Russia, China, etc… all places where it was not supposed to take root, where there was little industrilization. The UK which was the most industrialized of the time had the most reformist and least revolutionary labor movement. Why is it that Marxism takes hold in places where it is not supposed to according to Marx?

Marx’s writings themselves had an influence on the course of history. They inspired new governments, large scale revolutions, and changed world history. Given that we know this today, what hope is there for any theory based on material dialectics? In many ways the success of Marxism was not material at all, socialism rose out of ideas and not out of material prerequisites, (if it can be said that socialism rose at all). So this makes the contention that  economics is the engine of history quite suspect.


All countries no matter what their background will experience the process of industrialization in a similar manner. Capitalism will be more brutal or humane depending on the degree of development of the working class. (92)

The Unit of the capitalist economy is the commodity. The worth of a commodity is determined by the amount of labour put into it. The use value or utility of the commodity is not constant, one man would kill for a cheeseburger whereas another is lactose intolerant. What is constant (within the demand of the market) is the exchange value of the commodity. One dollar of gold is equal in exchange value to one dollar of corn, but not in use value.

Commodities come into being when use values which can be shared are created. That which is produced which cannot be made into social value is not a commodity. It has value, but it is not a commodity (131). Labour becomes a commodity when different labour become equivelant. When it becomes merely another input in the economic formula. Labour value as measure of the exchange values of commodities means that everything is charged in proportion to the amount of labour (taking raw material as stable). So if two coats are made in two hours, and a new mechanism helps make two coats in one hour, the two new coats are cheaper than the two old because they require half the amount of labour value. That is why it doesn’t matter what is produced, the basic unit of value is labour hours. This emerges from experience in fully developed production (168)

Commodities are taken to the market as things by their owners. They are exchange on the market. C-C Commodities only become commodities by this exchange. Money-forms arise to represent the labour time imbued in a given commodity. They are not the commodity itself.

Money then represents commodities which in turn are valued by labour. So C-M-C is the market model which is not necessarily capitalist. Capitalism comes in when a surplus is required. M-c-M’ where m’ is the added surplus in addition to the original. The capitalist does not seek to exchange man hour for man hour, maintaining an equilibrium but he seeks to turn a profit. And to do so the only variable he can manipulate is labour. So the capitalist purchases the labour commodity and creates surplus. Essentially capitalists create surplus value from money itself.

to transform 100 dollars to 110 dollars there must be a change in the value of the money. Since money represents labour, only labour can change the value of money. If i bought 10 dollars of wool and 10 dollars of sewing machines and 10 dollars of labour and sold 30 dollars of pants, i would be in a market no a capitalist. The capitalist creates surplus. (270-271) to do this the labour he purchases creates pants worth 35 dollars and thereby increases his money by expending additional labour.

In order to utilize labour as commodity there must be individuals who who have free propriety over their labour. They enter the market as buyer and seller. This can only exist in a capitalist system since in feudalism peasants do not even own their labour. The cost of labour or the value of labour is the value of subsistence. This included procreation, health etc.. (274) (how does the free labourer spring up doesn’t he require a buyer as well)

(286) “it is not what is made but how, that distinguished different economic epochs” Productive consumption is that which leads to products which will be consumed by others as opposed to personal consumption. Surplus comes from underpaying labour (293)

This is in contradiction to classical economics which argues that the price of a product is in use value (Ricardo).

Capital = Constant Capital + Variable Capital. Where constant capital is everything that isn’t labour and variable capital is labour. It’s called constant capital because it doesn’t produce surplus. C’ which is the new capital is C’= (c+v) + S

Only labour can both maintain it’s own original worth, maintain the worth of the constant capital and produce surplus as well.

(326) The rate of surplus value is the exact number of the degree of exploitation of workers by employers.

(346)Marx gives the example of how even in Feudalism the serf had to give a number of days to till the land of  the lord. These days were set aside and often accounted for  1/3rd of the working year. Now in this relationship the social exploitation is clearly delineated. Capitalism hides this exploitation. Firstly by transferring social relationships to commodities, and secondarily by mixing labour for subsistence with labour for capitalist. So if the labourer hasd to work 3 hours to reproduce himself (herself) and he works 7 hours for capital he can see which hours are those in which exploitation occurs. But that is not how the work is divided, every second has (in this case) 30% reproduction labour and 70% capitalist labour so the exploitation is hidden. (Sidenote: today multiple job shifts have to be performed to meet reproduction of labour so the hiding of exploitaton works very well because one job can’t  even reproduce the labour power)

(381/382) nice quote, Capitalists know their system is untenable, they know the crash is coming, but they just hope that when it does it will hit their neighbour and they will get away with it.

(385) in 1700 England there was a 4 day 10 hour work week. This reminds me of research on the hours of peasants being less than modern working hours per week. Also reminds me of research of mammalian leisure patterns. The vast majority of mammals, all apes and monkeys, spend at least 1/3rd of their waking time in leisure activity. I would think it is the same for Humans. Makes one wonder, what should the ideal work day be? 1850 england, 15 hour days, 6 days a weeks, children 7-12, women are cheaper.(1.5 hour break breakfast and dinner)

(409) Struggle over absolute surplus value (time worked) is settled at 12 hour week 1860 Capital tried to get surplus by changing the Relative surplus value (intensity of work during hours).

(longch10)Workers enter the workplace as individuals, capital is able to abuse them beyond their initial agreement. Workers join as they are homogenized. “our worker emerges from the process of production looking different from when he entered it.” Sweet quote. (415)

It doesn’t  make sense to argue that lesser working hours affects surplus because machines are not utilized. Wear and tear on the machines is less.

(430) ways in which relative surplus can be increased.  Labour time can be increased by increasing hourly production. If a machine helps a worker produce 10 thousand times faster then the cost of subsistence is ten thousand times less (assuming trends across industry) therefore the hours he works for his own sustenance are decreased significantly.

Process of production:

This leads to manufacturing in which costs are reduced and efficiency raised by organizing workers in one room and streamlining the production. (note capitalist produces surplus here by being a manager. Is this his labour?) Manufacturing creates unskilled workers by forcing them to do one specific task over and over. Or it makes competition impossible by making individual work too expensive to sell.

(475-481)Previously each producer made a commodity. The tanner made a product he could sell. Now workers do not make commodities, but fractions of a final commodity. Their commodity belongs to the capitalist. This cripples the power of the worker to leave the contract he had initially struck with capital. The individual himelf becomes specialized and compartmentalized,

(490) Adam Smith says to offset this, all workers must be educated in general. But is education the solution? Or does it contribute to the increasing specialization of the worker from birth today? The general requirement of mass education becomes a preparatory stage for turning humans into workers. Why private education is different from public?

Manufacturing gave way to machinery which increased the tendency of worker exploitation. (this is glossing overm any pages in which Marx outlines the bad conditions of workers).

(509) Machines create no new value, they merely speed up the labour hours. Helping form an  economy of scale. A machine cannot produce more than the amount of capital put in it. It is constant capital. It just exploits the worker faster,

(513) Labour is displaced and becomes cheaper than the machine!  Machines create a fall in wages so it becomes cheaper to employ workers. Machines allow employment of women and children, changes the relationship so capital owns the means of work not just subsistence, changes humans into machines, prolongs the working day. Workers aim at the machine when they should be aiming at the capitalist.

(575) Machines allow the formation of a class of “domestic slaves” for what is the service sector but servitude to other humans.

(579*) How industry creates an INTERNATIONAl spcialization of labour. The cycles of boom and bust is accelerated by machines.

(599) (But how did England get out of this supposedly spiral to death?)

(626) role played by ruling class in  the state as remedial to the excesses of capitalism.

Ch25. Capital= Constant + variable

which is the value of means of production + value of labour power. These can be calculated as the mass of the means of production and the mass of labour necessary for the employment of the mass of the means of production. The two are necessarily closely correlated. Growth of value as mentioned is in the growth of the variable capital.

(763) “The average of all the average compositions in all branches of production gives us the composition of the total social capital of a country”

When total capital grows due to surplus value it is reinvested into both constant and variable capital, this means that the demand for labour grows. Eventually there is a rise in wages because of this increase in demand. This is unacceptable for the capitalist.

(764) “accumulation of capital is therefore the multiplication of the proletariat”

(765) “it is the interest of all rich nations that the greatest part of the poor should almost never be idle and yet continually spend what they get” The production process itself increases the mass of the poor because it requires them.

(766) “persons of independent fortune owe their superior advantages by no means to any ability of their own, but almost entirely to the industry of others”

(769) Wages imply that the labourer will always provide unpaid labour in value.

(771) Wage: relation between unpaid  labour transformed to capital and the additional paid labor neededto use additional capital.

(774) Wage increases are actually relative losses for the worker in relation to the capitalist. When capital increases both constant and variable capital increase but in different proportions. So if when the relation started both had 1/2, after the increase  labour receive 1/8 of the increase and the 7/8 is invested into capital. So unless the labourer receives the increase in capital he is actually getting less in relation to the constant capital.

(776) Concentraion: Capitalism concentrates the means of social production in fewer and fewer hands over time, but within industries at first. Then the invention of credit means that all social production is in the hands of bankers.

The concentration of the social means of production is limited by the degree of increase in social wealth and by the spheres of production and competition with other capitalists.

So competition and concentration is not simply increasing concentration of means of production and labour but also the destruction of small capitalists by larger ones. The path drawn by marx is that first there is accumulation, then concentration in which capitalist do not compete yet, and finally centralization where large capitalists eat up small ones.

(777) Ultimate centralization is brought about by the credit system which emerges out of such intense competition and centralization that there remains one uber capitalist.

(780) As capital centralizes its rate speeds up and it becomes more efficient, there is as a result an absolute decrease in the amount of labour employed. (service sector as servitude)

(786) “modern industry depends on the constant transformation of a part of the working population into unemployed or semi-employed hands” Relative surplus population become necessary for the reproduction of capitalism. The result is a cycle of periodic waves of unemployment as capitalists consolidate. As surplus workers rise wages drop. (a bit condusing as to why it is necessary)

(795) there are three sources of surplus labour, part-timers (stagnant labour), floating labour (in factory towns), latent labour(women and children)

Note: Mammals reproduce more under duress. Ex: Japan is underpopulating so poverty is also a necessity for surplus labour army.

(797) Pauperism is the hospital of the active labour army and the dead weight of the surplus labour army “capital knows how to transfer the burden of redundant workers onto society.

(816*) Interesting how the fault of the condition of the working class is not the individual capitalists but the system.

(822*)  excellent example and analogy to today’s economic crisis back in 1863.

(862) on remittances and emigration as lucrative trade. (large section on the very shitty conditions of the English labourer. Shitting in bottom cupboards etc…

(873) now that Marx established capitalism as a closed system both creating and requiring free labour he explains how we got here  from primitive accumulation. Is this the marxist mythology however or is it what Marx thinks actually happened?

(874) force plays the greatest part in distinguishing capitalists from workers in the start of the system.

(875) primitive accumulation is the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production. (excellent section on how this happened) Capitalist society grew out of feudal society. The story of the freeing of the labourer is that of the end of the gaurantees of the old feudal arrangement and having them replaced with nothing. It happened in “blood and fire”  (goes through how laws were put in place punishing those who didn’t work or evaded work, how property of feudal peasant which was mandatory10acres apart from that of lord and can be worked by him and house him were taken and given to lord, the peasant was expelled into commons, but commons were also expropriated, this process began as early a 1600)

(876*)  Marx comes across the first traces of capitalism in 14th and 15th century, but it only properly started in the 16th century. Feudalism ends when masses of men are forcibly and suddenly torn from their means of sustenance and hurled onto the labour market as free, unprotected, rightless proletariat.

(878) prelude to capitalism, 1470-1530. New nobility who are attached to profit find that sheep hearding is much more valuable than farming, so they throw out the peasants who lived on their lands and transform them to sheep grazing fields (then to deer parks also like in Israel and palestinian villages). Wool production brought the most profit and it needed one herder. Peasants had four acres of land to them by 1800 they did not even have a garden, Land owner and farmers had worked hand in hand. In tandem church land was also confiscated or purchased for pittance and then tennants were again thrown out (tennants are monks). the end of feudal property meant the begining of private property, there was theft of state land, commons became state owned, laws introduce in this period justified further land acquisition in 1700. People’s lands are taken, consolidated into large estates and then the people are made to work for others. The penalty for not working was quite severe. So the labour wasn’t really free, it was force freed and forced to work as well by complaints of capitalists. Although later on there was slight compensation for peasants, all in all 3,511,770 acres were taken between 1801 and 1831 and the compensation was almost nothing.

(892) we went from arable land, to pasture, to deer forests. New forest of Glenfield.

Ch28. Parliament not only forced peasants to work, they also artificially forced down wages under extreme penalties. Sent to prison for higher wages and was in effect from 1360-1825.  Many peasants turned to vagabondism to maintain a standard of life they were used to, and that was outlawed as well. Breaking the law by not working in 1547 made you a slave. Only repealed in 1750. If you are without work you are sent to the galleys (this is in France as well).

(It’s amazing how much human beings will submit to)

(903) “parliament is the permanent trade union of the capitalists against the workers”

Ch29. Now that we know where the workers came from, where did the capitalists come from? Again  force plays the major role here. Bayliffs who took capital from lords, especially after the agricultural revolution. In 1500 land was rented for 100 years and the rising price of land meant that these bayliffs earned much profit, this was accompanied by the fall in price of metals (currency). This cheapened moeny, lowered wage and rent while raising the price of natural products.

(907)The farmer capitalist grew rich at the expense of both labourer and landlord.

Ch30-31 emergence of industrial capitalist after agricultural revolution.

Manufacturie developed to process goods efficiently. It becomes possible to expand factories due to freed labour at this time.

(914)  Those who started first became capitalists in this process. We also add two sources of middle age capitalists who are the usurers and the merchants.. Manycapitalists and usurers were stopped from becoming capitalists by the feudal organization of guilds and country-side. When the feudal fetters were loosened they opened up in coastal settings where they were out of reach of guild towns and near sea ports. But all along this the mid-wife of change has been force, by colonial expropriation, americal silver/gold, native slaves, opium wars … Colonies provided markets both in America and India.

(920*) the capitalist power at the top lends to the power that will surpass it. So Venice lent to the Dutch, the Dutch lend to the British who were industrial rather than commercial, and now the British lent to the Americans. (is the US lending China?)

Ch32. What is the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation?

(929) Capitalists become perfectly efficient, there is nowhere left to go for profit, capitalists destroy other capitalists, misery grows and as workers are homogeneous this will bring revolt. Proletariat overthrow capitalist. Death of capitalism is not a return to feudalism. Capitalism end communalism, but it established individual property which is based on cooperation (among workers), but not private property.

(935) N: The role of America in highlighting the capitalist exploitation in Europe. Does the US delay  or accelerate capitalism then? It seems to have delayed it.


The  social relationship between commodities replaces and hides the social relationship between men in the market. So instead of one man exchanging directly with another, it becomes money which is exchanged, thereby the social dynamics of barter become hidden behind money. Marx wants to uncover or recover the social relationship hidden by capitalism, which is ultimately the abuse of labour. The exploitation is obscured in capitalism because the labour commodity is represented by money. When a peasant pays of debt to the land owner the social relationship is clear.

The general formula of capital is m-c-m’

C-C  (barter)

C-M-C (Market economy)

M-C-M’ (General formula of capitaliskm)

M-M’ (financial capitalism)

so like we mentioned capitalism is determined by surplus value.

Why doesn’t the labour who makes two coats in the same time of one work half the amount of time?(Bertrand Russel) At what point does society jump from use-value to exchange-value?  Some reasons are, economic competition. But really the reason why the paradigm shift  happens is not clear. The reason why society moves from satisfying ends to competing isn’t laid out. Is it human nature? Why not take the rest of the time for leisure and keep the price constant?

According to Marx, the creation of surplus out of long-distance trade in which one buys cheap and sells dear (move commodity from low value to high value place) and through financial speculation is simply a brief and unsustainable matter of affairs. In time the disequilibrium will be rectified, and financial speculation will run its course. These have limts. The value created here is by shifting wealth, taking it from one place to another, and such surplus is unsustainbable. Capitalism and the exploitation of labour on the other hand is sustainable, though it goes through crises. In fact periods in which speculation is rampant are those in which inequality is the highest.

It seems like it is not humanly possible to account for everything that is constant capital. Things such as envrionmental degradation should be on there but how do you put a price on that? Perhaps surplus can be generated by trashing the environment. The value of the extracted material is not maintained but it shouldn’t matter much for  the capitalist (321).

If labour is the only thing that can add value, shouldn’t capital attempt to get as much labour as it can? Shouldn’t labour have an infinite value? Maybe there is something in the maths or logic which I am getting wrong here.

(silver, book) There are two theories of labour, race to bottom and resurgence.  Polanyi argues that there is a double movement, workers get  stronger get rights, become weaker get exploited …

Two outlooks either that capitalsim strengthens workers by enhancing their homogeneity, by making them powerful, one strike can cause devastation down the line. Or Capitalsit can always get more workers and bash them. Both work in different circumstances. Absolute surplus value: Length of working day. relative surplus value:  intensity of working day.

(776) Do capitalists not spend any of the surplus? Shouldn’t they be spending much more than the wage earners. And while they can’t spend all the surplus their high expenditure does provide for the emergence of an entire service industry.

(795*) The life of the labourer is short because labour is worked really hard. This cuts on pension costs and retirement fees. Today life expectancy has increased and there are debates on extending the retirement age, can we say that increasing the life of labour is one way of increasing the surplus population?

(797) is there a marxist explanation for obesity?

Silver: As production happens on larger and larger scale cooperation  becomes more and more complex and is required for production. Therefore production becomes more social this promotes worker unity. The drive to seek new spaces for production can be geographically broad or internally deep. (link to working of prison population and encroaching on new branches of industry)

Three types of labour, latent, floating, stagnant, and the paupers far off. But are the workers that are fired the same as the ones that they are replaced with? Where do workers go after they are fired? Usually when they are replaced by machines and the industry grows they are floating labour since they are rehired. But when mass production is the case latent labour replaces those who are fired. The floating lablur is generally available when the industry is neither growing nor shrinking, when there is no change.

If we include the prison population in the unemployment  count of the US unemployment doubles.

Silver: there are two interpretation on what Marx means by capitalism which influences whether we think of certain modes as capitalists or not.

  1. Middle part of capital majority read this way. Capitalism requires free labour and capitalist, they go in on an equal footing. If these do not exist it is not capitalism but some precursor to capitalism. So slavery, plantations, and prisoners are not part of capitalism.
  2. First part, capitalism is about m-c-m’ whenever someone earns a profit it is capitalism. So slavery is capitalism. Silver sees it like this, wonders whether capital as described in Britain is just a brief phase or main phase but not whole phase of capitalism. capitalism not technically requiring prerequisites. It’s not important what C is, could be slaves. This seems to be the reading more friendly to Gunder Frank which sees historical accumulation.

Plantation system is clearly capitalism for both but for 1  is a pre-stage and 2 is the stage.

On world money

(172) Asiatic classical-antique religions will dissolve. All religions will move to christian deism because that is compatible with capitalism.

(226) The symbol for money, once worthless in itself must have its own objective social validity (the state). Therefore paper money is only valid internal to the state.

(239) Ancient modes of trade are preserved in different regions. In Ottoman empire the payment in kind maintains the social foundations of the empire.

(240) only in world trade does money purely represent labor and cease to represent commdities.

(243) World money is social materialization of nations wealth. Between states money stands in for commodities. Silver and gold are bullion and not symbols of commodities.

But if states do trade, and they are at different levels of development, how does the capitalist state trade with the non-capitalist one. If there is no arbitrer objective international arbiter so money can’t  be used how do states determine the worth of what they exchange? Is there something such as a society between states?

Other authors:

Adam Smith in Beijing: Giovani Arrigi:

Adam Smith sees China as a capitalist country which almost attained its maximum. Holland came close. So Frank is partially correct. Ec0onomies inthese countries would reach their height an stabilize.

not all situations lead to violent capialism. high level equilibrium in which population growth is slower can be sustained.
“the Smithian notion of stationary state is instead best represented by the high-level equilibrium, because what prevents per capita income from rising above e2 is a steep decline in the rate of income growth” (71)

China had the more stable growth model but Europe hadthe military to sustain its growth by expropriation for 300 years. The European economy according to smith was unnatural because it relied on foreign trade, since the chinese model was insulated it was a natural capitalism.European capitalism is unnatural because it relies on foreign trade and long-distance trading rather than domestic. The Chinese is the natural capitalism.

But what explains why Europe dominated China? It wasn’t the artillery of cheap products as marx said, the europeans needed actual artillery, used actual force to open china and keep it open.

So MArx criticizing political economy of Adam Smith and Ricardo. But he focuses on class but not on foreign relations. Even though he sees long-distance trade as crucial to capitalism in Europe. He doesn’t explain how Europe came to dominate the rest of the world militarily. (78) Marx can;t explain how economic domiance comes from military dominance.

Capitalism cannot be understood without looking at the global level. It required global dominance of Europeans to work. So Marx and Smith look at different faces of capitalism which occur at the same time. Capitalism furthermore only develops when it is associated with a state or the state, because chinese capitalism was separate it didn’t go global.

(93) “Our contention will be that it is this sequence of endless accumulation of capital and power, more than anything else, that defines the European developmental path as “capitalist”; and conversely, the absence of anything comparable to such a sequence in East Asia can be taken as the clearest sign that, prior to the Great Divergence, the East Asian developmental path was as market-based as the European but was not the bearer of a capitalist dynamic.”

Two states in economies according to Adam Smith, High equilibrium and low equilibrium. There are two crises  which can result from capitalism.

  1. Overaccumulation: Labour is too strong. Squeeze on profits. 1970 crisis. There is overacumulation of capital which can’t be invested, too much labour and too much capital to be invested profitably. Wages too high or raw material too expensive.
  2. Underconsumption/Overproduction: Insufficient demand, Labour is weak. 1930. There is too much money and it’s not being invested well.

Both can happen at the same time, not exclusive usually come together.

David Harvey: New Imperialism.

Gettin away from thinking of primitive accumulation as something that only started captialism and no longer accompanies it. Primitive accumulation or accumulation by disposession is part of capitalism.  It creates and solves capitalist crises.

Surplus is generated by theft. Capital finds new commons, also disposession, things like water and what were free now become privatized. Crises may be rationalized and provoked by a power like the US in order to open the door to mine surplus value by disposession, like debt crises, and 1973 shift in currency which made it impossible for countries to pay debts. More sense of agency in this narrative opf capitalism.

Primitive accumulation opens new forms of social rganization while destroying the old. Accumulation by disposession destroys withouth creating anything.

How can social movements react to accumulation bny dispossession? This new nature of capitalism cannot be fought via unions as before.

Reaction to accumulation by disposession not like socialist, More regressive, not avante gaurde, romantic. Also issue specific since offenses were also issue specific. Strategies were tailored to issues rather than to broad question of society. Given this fact the new left needs to be careful in not accepting any reactionary movement. Some eggs will have to broken just as feudalism was given up some traditional social forces will disappear as part of modernization but the battles must not all be given up.  Post-modern anti-capitalist, anti-internationalist are regressive, they do not seek to control the state, they are back looking seeking to maintain the previous status. Like Chiappas rebellion, flooding of Brazilian forest for dam ….

(181) Imperialism is necessary when there is overaccumulation and internal stagnation in society. In this case imperialism provides a chance for disposession.

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