Spring 1999

Capital, Volume 1

Appendix: Results of the Immediate Process of Production


Apparently we should have read this after next week's reading.  In the introduction we are given an outline that has "primitive accumulation" before it.  But really order isn't so important, and in fact logically it has to do with what we have just been reading.


Divide into three sections (look at outline on p. 948):

1. Commodities as the Product of Capital (pp. 949-975)

2. Capitalist Production as the Production of Surplus-value (pp. 975-1019)

3. Formal and Real Subsumption (pp. 1019-1060)


The first two sections are really review of what we have already read, but now from a different point of view.  The third part is really something new and I'll spend more time on that.


Commodities as the Product of Capital

1. Only when labor-power is a commodity does the commodity appear as the universal form of wealth.  (read pp. 950-51)

· "In capitalist production the tendency for all products to be commodities and all labour to be wage-labour, becomes absolute" (1041).

2. This section effectively takes us back to Part I of volume 1 and looks again at the commodity, but now the commodity is not the premise of capitalist production, its point of departure, but the result of production, its point of arrival.  (Commodities are "depositories" of capital (pp. 967, 975); is depository an alternative version of Träger?)

A.     From this perspective use-value looks different.  Read p. 953 -- use-value appears inessential.  Better formulation on p. 951: “use-value is universally mediated by exchange-value.”  In the beginning of Chapter 1 use-value was the natural starting point, now it’s a result of production and comes after exchange-value.  Capitalist agriculture is an example – produce commodities for sale not for own consumption.

B.     Second important result of taking perspective of the results of the process is that we now view the total product and see the value of an individual commodity as aliquot portion of the value of the total.  This allows Marx to pose the transition to Vol. 2 and the problem of realization.

p. 971: working class cannot buy all the products produced.

p. 967: constantly expanding market.


Capitalist Production as Production of Surplus-Value

Here we are returning primarily to Chapter 7 "The Labour Process and the Valorization Process" and the fundamental question is What is capital?

First basic precondition for capital is that the worker is separated from the means of production (raw materials + instruments of production).  Separated meaning that the worker does not own them nor has free access to them, as the peasant has access to the land.  Thus separated the means of production appear as capital confronting the worker (antagonistically).

· Read p. 983 top -- There are two points here: first that the means of production confront the worker; second that the means of production appear as capital even outside the production process and hence outside of this particular historical formation.

First the confrontation: the opposition between the worker and the means of production fill the place of the confrontation between worker and capital.  The opposition gives rise to a reversal of subjectivity or agency: inversion of subject/object.  Instead of the worker making use of the land or tools, capital makes use of labor.  Or put more poignantly, from the perspective of the labor process, the worker makes use of the means of production, but from the perspective of the valorization process the means of production make use of labor, or better they absorb labor.

· Read p. 988, long, sucking leeches

· Read p. 1008, sucking living labor

· p. 1007, process of absorption.

The metaphor of absorbing and sucking is the flip side of use.  It is the way the thing, means of production, objectified labor uses living labor -- it sucks it.  Inversion of subject/object.

This is effectively the new view of fetishism and reification we get in this part of the text.  Fetishism and reification in Chapter 1 had to do primarily with commodity exchange: commodities relate to each other in a "social" way through exchange and humans relate only via commodities.  In this part, however, we have a fetishism and reification based in the production process.

· Read p. 990, inversion of subject into object

· Read p. 1003 bot and 1004 top, alienation and absorption

Fluens – fluid metaphors to emphasize the relational character.  Read 1005: capital is not a thing.


Formal and Real Subsumption

What I find most useful in this distinction and this tendency (from the formal to the real) is its implicit periodization of capitalist production: the phase of the formal subsumption, the phase of the real.  I have argued that postmodernity should be understood as the phase of the real subsumption.

Let's just review what they are.

Last week in Chapter 16 (p. 645).  Formal subsumption of labor under capital involves laboring forms that were developed outside of capital.  They suffice for absolute surplus value.  Relative surplus value requires the real subsumption, that is the rule of laboring forms developed within capital itself.  The real subsumption is the specifically capitalist mode of production.  Read subsumption not really as Aufheben but merely as incorporation.

Formal subsumption: incorporation of what is foreign, pre-existing labor processes.  In other words, "production processes of varying social provenance have been transformed into capitalist production" (1020).  They have been transformed by subjecting them to the wage relation and capitalist discipline: the ex-slave becomes a wage-laborer and the ex-peasant becomes a wage- laborer.  "capital subsumes the labour process as it finds it, that is to say, it takes over an existing labour process, developed by different and more archaic modes of production" (1021).  What is different?  They do the exact same activities for work only now they receive a wage for it.  So, in juridical terms the difference is that now the worker owns its labor-power (as opposed to the slave) and it is forced to sell its labor-power (as opposed to the peasant).  In other words, although the actual laboring process remains the same as it is formally subsumed labor must be separated from the means of production.  In slavery the slave is part of the means of production, bought and owned like the land and the machinery.  In peasant production the peasant has free access to the means of production (the land).  When formally subsumed they must be separated such that the worker owns its own labor power and the capitalist owns the means of production.  "The more completely these conditions of labour are mobilized against him as alien property, the more effectively the formal relationship between capital and wage-labour is established" (1026).  Also for reproduction, the worker is no longer given its subsistence nor does it have access to provide for it itself (like slave or peasant), but it must buy its subsistence with the wage; ie., the worker becomes a consumer.  All of that is what I mean by a juridical difference: the activities of the worker might be exactly the same but they are done under different title, different ownership.  This is a formal not a real difference.

·Formal subsumption is the first stage of the expansion of capitalist production to new areas, imperialism.  In the Manifesto M&E write that capital takes what is foreign and makes it proper.  Really in the formal subsumption it incorporates something foreign within itself and mediates the conflict.  It is important that in the formal subsumption labor remains foreign to capital even if it is incorporated.  It came from outside and it retains its foreign essence -- only the formal conditions of its existence have changed.  This is both true in the same geographical region (for example, subsuming agricultural production under capital in England) or in the different region (subsuming cotton production in India or Egypt).  In all cases it implies a contradiction and antagonism between capital and labor.  The dialectic here might be conceived in the play between inside and outside, or really the command over the play between inside and outside.  This is Rosa Luxemburg's definition of imperialism (Accumulation of Capital): it is capital's need for expansion, which is precisely its need continually to internalize its outside, to subsume the production of new regions under capitalist relations and rule.

·I would also like to claim this dialectic between inside and outside is characteristic of modernity.  It is not uncommon to identify modernity with capitalism, but I would want to identify it specifically with the phase of the formal subsumption.  (My preference would be to look at this dialectic between self and other, proper and foreign, inside and outside), but it may be more useful to look at it with Marx in terms of the secularizing and rationalizing vocation of modernity.  The formal subsumption of labor "dissolves the relationship between the owners of the conditions of labour and the workers into a relationship of sale and purchase, a purely financial relationship.  In consequence the process of exploitation is stripped of every patriarchal, political or even religious cloak" (1027).  The dissolution of the pre-modern power relations is characterized as the disappearance of a series of barriers (1031).  What remains is a purely economic relationship (an impersonal relationship) between free owners of commodities.  The process of formal subsumption is modernization or the phase of the formal subsumption is modernity.


Real subsumption: the laboring processes themselves are altered.  This is why under the formal subsumption only absolute surplus value could increase s-v (because the processes were unchanged); now the change in laboring processes is the key to relative surplus-value.  Marx calls this real subsumption the "specifically capitalist form of production," as if the formal subsumption were just a transitional phase.  The labor that produces under the real subsumption did not exist previously somewhere else it was invented by capital (or within capitalism), in the factory for instance.  Labor in the real subsumption is thus (in some sense) not foreign but proper.  Three points I want to emphasize: independence, social character, role of technology and science.

1. "capitalist production now establishes itself as a mode of production sui generis" (1035).

2. Progression from individual labor to social labor to social capital as what appears to be the producer, the subject.  Read p. 1035: social not individual labor.

"Direct labor as such ceases to be the basis of production, since . . . the product ceases to be the product of isolated direct labor, and the combination of social activity appears, rather as the producer" (Grundrisse, p. 709).

3. Read p. 1024.

·So, here is the movement: "In very brief summary ... automaton" (Social Text 38-39).  This is where I want to speak of the real subsumption as the postmodern condition: the apparent autonomy of capital, it is no longer apparently relying on labor for the production of wealth; the end of the dialectic between self and other, inside and outside, and so forth.

·Mystification that science and technology appear as the source of wealth, and that capital appears as the source of science and technology.  Read p. 1053: "They appear ... individual worker."

Temporally I would also say the phase of the real subsumption corresponds with postmodernity.  In Marx's time the hint of the real subsumption existed only in the factory and thus only occupied a miniscule fraction of the production of a few European countries.  The phase of the real subsumption arrives when factory relations spread to all sectors of social production (I would call this the factory society).  It also means a certain realization of imperialism.  In other words, global capitalist domination no longer involves the internalization or formal subsumption of non-capitalist regions (as it did in imperialism); now capitalism has effectively spread to all sectors of global production.  So that the realization of the world market or globalization might be taken as simply names for the phase of the real subsumption.


Services and Unproductive Labor

"In general, we may say that service is merely an expression for the particular use-value of labour where the latter is useful not as an article, but as an activity" (1047).

·microscopic significance (1044).


Biopower: “capital itself regulates the production of labor-power.”