Surplus labour or surplus value becomes surplus capital. All determinants of capitalist production now appear as results of (wage) labour itself. The realization process [Verwirklichungsprozess] of labour at the same time its de-realization process [Entwirklichungsprozess]
Marx explores how our work, through the labor process, becomes objectified. How we become inhuman. In its way it is a deeply horrifying passage. Academics dismiss Marx’s political activism as somehow demeaning his theoretical work. How ignorant. Marx’s theoretical work was at the service of a struggle for emancipation, they can not be separated. How could one begin to investigate the world of labor without also being confronted with its limits; the causes and the ways to transcend then? It doesn’t make him less of a ‘scientist’. Perhaps, in another person, it might. But this is Marx and the artificial separations of the ‘sciences’ (broadly speaking) were a barrier to a genuine scientific understanding; a product of bourgeois utilitarianism at best, the conscious rejection of system in favor of technique. At the service of capitalism’s reproduction , naturally.
Even now, for most, science and technology are synonymous. Marx also rejected the notion of ‘knowledge for knowledge sake’. What else could that result in but esotericisms indulged in by elites (tenured professors, anyone?). The point of knowing was and is to act. But knowing itself is a great act for many. It is often the first and final act of liberation.
People often complain of Marx’s one hundred word sentences; or worse his paragraphs that hold not traditionally to the single idea. With enough commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes and quotes to spin even the most well versed heads Marx only acknowledges in form, masterly, the dynamism of his subject.
Marx’s birthday was celebrated, in many ways (some not so obvious) in Athens on that chaotic May 5. The Old Mole retains and regains relevance all of the time. We take it for granted in times of crisis, but in time of class peace too, Marx can be heard clearly if you listen. The reason we still have so much to learn from Marx is that he asked the most radical of questions and set up to answer them, with his real genius, in word and in deed. He was fond of his Prophet’s Beard; seeing further for Marx did not mean looking into the future, but further into the present (the place where past and future meet).
As hard going as this piece may seem it is rich, infinitely rich, in theoretical nuggets; brutal, exposing contradictions, puzzling formulations and damn powerful insights drawing on a whole world of experiences, investigations and activities. Don’t think it’s too much to take in a sitting. I read it through, stewed with it for a few days and re-read it again, and then again. I’m still full of thinkings and questions and vistas to explore.
And, for reasons that I’m not quite sure, it is to Greece that I am made to think of. What we are seeing is something more than a conflict over a budget; we are seeing an epochal struggle over the interests of labor (in all of those meanings). The slogans, chants and screams of those Athens’ workers have made clear that theirs is a rage born of the conditions of their class; I have found myself moved, pulled into the fray and wishing to add my body to the throng.
Hell, read this and think of the shift you worked and the bills it doesn’t pay; or your unemployment running out (if you ever had it) while failed banks are reaping billions. When the capitalists go into debt they do so on the assurance of a return on future surpluses; when workers go into debt they are selling the surplus they will produce in the future; they are slaves twice over. The capitalists twice winners. It’s a story 40 years old now. In some ways. Greece is here and it has been for years. It is no trite, oversimplification to say that their struggle is all of our struggle.
They have challenged us as the situation has. The capitalist class have decided to use this crisis to consolidate their class power by rolling back the meager gains of workers even further. Greece is just the first in a series of austerity budgets about to be unleashed on the European working class and if it can be battered through the notoriously combative and conscious Greek working class, no other national working class will resist. This is the capitalists disciplining labor on a generational scale; they aim to change the balance of forces with this crisis further in their direction. They are succeeding.
The crisis may not stem from a crisis of labor, but it will be labor that pays for the crisis. And all of this is done by controlling the surpluses the workers themselves produced; the squandering and the constricting accumulation by the capitalist class. What we are seeing in Greece is a battle for control of the social surplus; created by one class and expropriated by another. I think Marx would have recognized it with crystal clarity.
It’s good to go back to the root a bit, even more so in times of crisis and confusion. Too often we think about capitalism sans class, it seems even a fashion these days. But it is class, rooted in how and why we produce, that continues to shape the politics and social scene of the day. It is the interests of classes and those classes contain definite people, people with individual interests that are only guaranteed through broader class interests. Those vastly different interests on display in the streets of Greece these last days come from some where deep, deep in the labor process. It is born of slaves and of masters.
Think about the rage shown on the streets of Athens when you read this, the nihilism yes, but much more the solidarity; the sense of your self-expression, your self interests relying on the multitude about you. Think about how willing the ruling class are to take the working class head-on with all of their power, the power of the state, but also the power based on their control of property, of capital, that Dead Hand that lords over the Earth. Think of their confidence. It comes from somewhere, somewhere deep. So to the Moore then and to the roots, or some of them.
From the Grundrisse Notebook IV:
The new value, then, [is] itself posited as capital again, as objectified labour entering into the process of exchange with living labour, and hence dividing itself into a constant part — the objective conditions of labour, material and instrument — and the conditions for the subjective condition of labour, the existence of living labour capacity, the necessaries, subsistence goods for the worker. With this second entrance by capital in this form, some points appear clarified which were altogether unclear in its first occurrence — as money in transition from its role as value to its role as capital. Now they are solved through the process of realization and production itself. In the first encounter, the presuppositions themselves appeared to come in from the outside, out of circulation; as external presuppositions for the arising of capital; hence not emergent from its inner essence, and not explained by it. These external presuppositions will now appear as moments of the motion of capital itself, so that it has itself — regardless how they may arise historically — pre-posited them as its own moments.
Within the production process itself, surplus value, the surplus value procured through compulsion by capital, appeared as surplus labour, itself in the form of living labour, which, however, since it cannot create something out of nothing, finds its objective conditions laid out before it. Now this surplus labour appears in objectified form as surplus product, and, in order to realize itself as capital, this surplus product divides into a double form: as objective condition of labour — material and instrument; as subjective — consumption goods for the living labour now to be put to work. The general form as value — objectified labour — and objectified labour coming out of circulation — is of course the general, self-evident presupposition. Further: the surplus product in its totality — which objectifies surplus labour in its totality — now appears as surplus capital (in contrast to the original capital, before it had undertaken this cycle), i.e. as independent exchange value, in which living labour capacity encounters its specific use value. 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.
Firstly: surplus value or the surplus product are nothing but a specific sum of objectified living labour –the sum of surplus labour. This new value which confronts living labour as independent, as engaged in exchange with it, as capital, is the product of labour. It is itself nothing other than the excess of labour as such above necessary labour — in objective form and hence as value.
Secondly: the particular forms which this value must adopt in order to realize itself anew, i.e. to posit itself as capital — on one side as raw material and instrument, on the other as subsistence goods for labour during the act of production — are likewise, therefore, only particular forms of surplus labour itself. Raw material and instrument are produced by it in such relations — or, it is itself objectively posited in production as raw material and instrument in such a proportion — that a given sum of necessary labour — i.e. living labour which reproduces (the value of) the consumption goods — can objectify itself in it, and objectify itself in it continuously, i.e. can always begin anew the diremption into the objective and subjective conditions of its self-preservation and self-reproduction. In addition to this, living labour, in the process of reproducing its objective conditions, has at the same time posited raw material and instrument in such proportions that it can realize itself in them as surplus labour, as labour beyond the necessary, and can hence make them into material for the creation of new values. The objective conditions of surplus labour — which are restricted to the proportion of raw arterial and instrument beyond the requirements of necessary labour, whereas the objective conditions of necessary labour divide within their objectivity into objective and subjective, into objective moments of labour as well as subjective (consumption goods for living labour) — therefore now appear, are therefore now posited, as the product, result, objective form, external existence of surplus labour itself. Originally, by contrast, the fact that instrument and necessaries were on hand in the amounts which made it possible for living labour to realize itself not only as necessary, but also as surplus labour — this appeared alien to living labour itself, appeared as an act of capital.
Thirdly: The independent, for-itself existence [Fürsichsein] of value vis-à-vis living labour capacity — hence its existence as capital — the objective, self-sufficient indifference, the alien quality [Fremdheit] of the objective conditions of labour vis-a-vis living labour capacity, which goes so far that these conditions confront the person of the worker in the person of the capitalist — as personification with its own will and interest — this absolute divorce, separation of property, i.e. of the objective conditions of labour from living labour capacity — that they confront him as alien property, as the reality of other juridical persons, as the absolute realm of their will — and that labour therefore, on the other side, appears as alien labour opposed to the value personified in the capitalist, or the conditions of labour — this absolute separation between property and labour, between living labour capacity and the conditions of its realization, between objectified and living labour, between value and value-creating activity — hence also the alien quality of the content of labour for the worker himself — this divorce now likewise appears as a product of labour itself, as objectification of its own moments. For, in the new act of production itself — which merely confirmed the exchange between capital and living labour which preceded it — surplus labour, and hence the surplus product, the total product of labour in general (of surplus labour as well as necessary labour), has now been posited as capital, as independent and indifferent towards living labour capacity, or as exchange value which confronts its mere use value. Labour capacity has appropriated for itself only the subjective conditions of necessary labour — the means of subsistence for actively producing labour capacity, i.e. for its reproduction as mere labour capacity separated from the conditions of its realization — and it has posited these conditions themselves as things, values, which confront it in an alien, commanding personification. The worker emerges not only not richer, but emerges rather poorer from the process than he entered. For not only has he produced the conditions of necessary labour as conditions belonging to capital; but also the value-creating possibility, the realization [Verwertung] which lies as a possibility within him, now likewise exists as surplus value, surplus product, in a word as capital, as master over living labour capacity, as value endowed with its own might and will, confronting him in his abstract, objectless, purely subjective poverty. 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 realizes itself anew. All this arose from the act of exchange, in which he exchanged his living labour capacity for an amount of objectified labour, except that this objectified labour — these external conditions of his being, and the independent externality [Ausserihmsein] (to him) of these objective conditions — now appear as posited by himself, as his own product, as his own self-objectification as well as the objectification of himself as a power independent of himself, which moreover rules over him, rules over him through his own actions.
In surplus capital, all moments are products of alien labour — alien surplus labour transformed into capital; means of subsistence for necessary labour; the objective conditions — material and instrument — whereby necessary labour can reproduce the value exchanged for it in means of subsistence; finally the amount of material and instrument required so that new surplus labour can realize itself in them, or a new surplus value can be created.
It no longer seems here, as it still did in the first examination of the production process, 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 — both to the extent that they are value in general, and as use values for production. But while capital thus appears as the product of labour, so does the product of labour likewise appear as capital — no longer as a simple product, nor as an exchangeable commodity, but as capital; objectified labour as mastery, command over living labour. The product of labour appears as alien property, as a mode of existence confronting living labour as independent, as value in its being for itself; the product of labour, objectified labour, has been endowed by living labour with a soul of its own, and establishes itself opposite living labour as an alien power: both these situations are themselves the product of labour. Living labour therefore now appears from its own standpoint as acting within the production process in such a way that, as it realizes itself in the objective conditions, it simultaneously repulses this realization from itself as an alien reality, and hence posits itself as insubstantial, as mere penurious labour capacity in face of this reality alienated [entfremdet] from it, belonging not to it but to others; that it posits its own reality not as a being for it, but merely as a being for others, and hence also as mere other-being [Anderssein], or being of another opposite itself. This realization process is at the same time the de-realization process of labour. It posits itself objectively, but it posits this, its objectivity, as its own not-being or as the being of its not-being — of capital. It returns back into itself as the mere possibility of value-creation or realization [Verwertung]; because the whole of real wealth, the world of real value and likewise the real conditions of its own realization [Verwirklichung] are posited opposite it as independent existences. As a consequence of the production process, the possibilities resting in living labour’s own womb exist outside it as realities — but as realities alien to it, which form wealth in opposition to it.
In so far as the surplus product is realized anew as surplus capital, enters anew into the process of production and self-realization, it divides into (1) means of subsistence for the workers, to be exchanged for living labour capacity; let this part of capital be designated as labour fund; this labour fund, the part allotted for the maintenance of living labour capacity — and for its progressive maintenance, since surplus capital constantly grows — now likewise appears as the product of alien labour, labour alien to capital, as well as (2) its other component parts — the material conditions for the reproduction of a value = to these means of subsistence + a surplus value. Further, if we consider this surplus capital, then the division of capital into a constant part — raw material and instrument with an antediluvian existence before labour — and a variable part, i.e. the necessary goods exchangeable for living labour capacity, appears as purely formal, in so far as both of them are equally posited by labour and are equally posited by it as its own pranky-positions. Now, however, this internal division of capital appears in such a way that labour’s own product — objectified surplus labour — splits into two component parts — the objective conditions for new realization of labour (1), and a labour fund for maintaining the possibility of this living labour, i.e. of living labour capacity as alive (2), but in such a way that labour capacity can only re-appropriate that part of its own result — of its own being in objective form –which is designated as labour fund, can appropriate and extract this part from the form of the alien wealth which confronts it, only by reproducing not merely its own value, but by also realizing that part of the new capital which represents the objective conditions for the realization of new surplus labour and surplus production, or production of surplus values. Labour has itself created a new fund for the employment of new necessary labour, or, what is the same, a fund for the maintenance of new living labour capacities, of workers, but has created at the same time the condition that this fund can be employed only if new surplus labour is employed on the extra part of the surplus capital. Thus, the production by labour of this surplus capital — surplus value — is at the same time the creation of the real necessity of new surplus labour, and thus surplus capital is itself at the same time the real possibility both of new surplus labour and of new surplus capital. It here becomes evident that labour itself progressively extends and gives an ever wider and fuller existence to the objective world of wealth as a power alien to labour, so that, relative to the values created or to the real conditions of value-creation, the penurious subjectivity of living labour capacity forms an ever more glaring contrast. The greater the extent to which labour objectifies itself, the greater becomes the objective world of values, which stands opposite it as alien — alien property. With the creation of surplus capital, labour places itself under the compulsion to create yet further surplus capital etc. etc.
In regard to the original not-surplus capital, the relation has changed, as regards labour capacity, in so far as (1) the part of it which is exchanged for necessary labour has been reproduced by this labour itself, i.e. no longer comes to it out of circulation, but is its own product; and (2) that part of the value which, as raw material and instrument, represents the real conditions for the realization [Verwertung] of living labour, has been maintained by it itself in the production process; and, since every use value by its nature consists of transitory material, but since exchange value is present, exists, only in use value, therefore this maintenance = protection from decay and ruin, or negation of the transitory nature of the values owned by the capitalists; hence, this maintenance means to posit them as values for-themselves, as indestructible wealth. Hence, this original sum of values has been posited for the first time as capital in the production process, by living labour.