Saturday, April 4, 2015

Crises of Bourgeois Production: Historical Contradiction in the Spheres of Production and Consumption

In my last two-part article, Objective Forces of Capitalist Accumulation and the Subjective Experience of the Process, I showed various general poltico-historical categories arising in the developed form of capitalist production. I ended it on the note of the forms of crisis bound up in the contradictions this stage in the development of productive society necessitate within the conditions of its existence. But these are general categories, and here, as I stated was the purpose I had in mind for doing this, I wish to discuss their specific manifestations historically. In a word, this last article will be the pivot around which we proceed from the general, abstract forms - where the bourgeois economists end their polemical defenses - to the concrete and specific content of these forms as they reveal themselves openly in crises, where a critical study of this mode of production can truly begin at the point where the bourgeois economists forego theirs. If this is not the reason for explicating these general forms, we will only find ourselves in a pedantic metaphysical tautology, where we understand the causes of these as essentially being nothing more than the conditions of their existence.

But these conditions may exist as a possibility without being realized in actuality, and Marx demanded this be understood in terms of actual existing productive activity, where these forms of crisis and production assert themselves in specific manifestions under which the factors in the inherent contradictions of money and commodities, on the one hand exchange value and use-value on the other, or production and consumption more broadly, bring about this contradiction's realization as crisis at a definite, determined stage of production, namely the developed form of the bourgeois mode of production. These contradictions erupt in the sphere of reproduction of capital, or what is another word for the sphere of circulation, where commodities are transformed into money and money is transformed into commodities by seller and buyer, respectively, in the simple act of exchange, but become further separated from each other as two independent, mutually correlated phases or aspects of exchange, and in their separation are violently forced back together in crisis, and in their unity violently torn asunder. What I mean by this will be elaborated as we substantiate it through a historical elaboration.

It is my contention that Marx's 'Theories of Surplus Value' most directly engages this historical criticism, so this will be the main work to which I will be referring when I elucidate Marx's theory of crisis. Readers must assume that this is the work from which Marx is either quoted or referenced unless otherwise stated.

Finally, I will argue that crisis becomes the historical conditio sine qua non of the contemporary stage of capitalist, which I have described in several other places as either hypercapitalism (corresponding to hyper-imperialism), neoliberal globalization, or global market fascism. To define these I will draw on the contributions of contemporary social critics and historians as well, and in a future article take on a more thoroughgoing definition of these terms and their political significance. For now, I suggest that the two-part article on which this one is based be read if the reader has not yet taken care to do so, and recommend two of my other articles for bringing the clearest theoretical frameworks to bear upon the present article's treatment of bourgeois crises in general, and especially its present stage of perpetual, or permanent, crisis: The False Neutrality of Neoliberal Market Fascism and Marx's Capital and Kafka's The Metamorphosis

This is the stage that we find ourselves in today, one that gains its power from the crisis of its own regime, from which it both draws its power and exhausts its productive wealth in a totality of antagonisms between its complementary factors, and in this totality unites the different antagonisms by stitching them together in increasingly intensified tensions, of which intensified exploitation of labor-power is the greatest one to concern us as we consider socialist alternatives for a post-capitalist global regime no longer dominated by capital's law of value, or the surplus value that is the mechanism by which capitalist production is carried on as the primus movens of the appropriators of labor-power and productive capital as commodifies. I will conclude by showing that this accumulation of surplus value, today, has for the basis of this permanent crisis economy the unmediated contradiction inherent in capital, viz. the organic composition of capital, which struggles to overcome the limits of constant capital (fixed capital, machines, tools, instruments of production, productive technologies, scientific operations, and all other capital used in labor-saving production through intensifying the rate of exploitation) against which living labor, and its labor-power as a commodity, finds itself thrashing in the contemporary production process of capitalist globalization.

It is scarcely necessary to revisit all of the arguments by political economists (Say, Ricardo, Mill, Smith, etc.) addressed by Marx and refuted in turn, except in connection with the production of surplus-value highlighted by Marx's attacks against their utopian assumptions about the bourgeois mode of production. Utopian, most of all, is political economy's denial of the possibility of absolute capitalist overproduction, i.e. a general production of the articles of exchange in excess of their demand for immediate consumption, and the consequent market crisis, characterized by the closing down of a portion of society's productive forces, increased unemployment, halted credit, and lagging consumption. Sure, they agree, that this can occur in particular branches of industry; but the notion of a general crisis in which those branches of industry struck by overproduction reciprocally trigger a crisis in general, is dismissed as an impossibility. To prove this, political economy must put forward a fatal assumption that capitalist production and exchange are carried in the same manner as bartering, on a larger scale. If this is true, all buyers are sellers of commodities, and all sellers would be buyers, when they meet in the market and exchange commodities for commodities. This proves misguided, and Marx appeals to two observations to disabuse political economy of this naïve representation of the bourgeois mode of production: first, not all purchases of commodities are meant for direct and immediate consumption, but for consumption as capital, i.e. intermediate commodities, used in the production of another commodity by the buyer, whose goal in purchase is not personal satisfaction, but accumulation. Second, Marx observes that, the purpose of capitalist production from the standpoint of the commodity owner being the realization of a surplus-value, i.e. a value greater than that which the owner advances in labor as wages (variable capital) and means of production (constant capital), there is an increasing independence of the act of buying from the act of selling. In fact, these two acts comprise opposing but complementary phases of exchange, and while a buyer may wish to transform their money into a commodity, sellers may not wish to turn their commodities immediately into money, but must, under pain of the necessity of expanding production in competition against other capital owners, reproduce the labor-power and means of production used in the first cycle of production. This reproduction is nothing but circulation, on ever-expanding scales, of capital and money, in which some of the commodities are reconverted back into capital instead of money. That is, they are converted back into an embodiment of some use-value, or what is the same, an embodiment of some individual, particular form of material labor either in wages or means of production, including machines and raw materials, to be exchanged in the future for a quantity of money embodying a greater portion of abstract, general labor. Abstract labor is the measure of a commodity's exchange-value, determined by the labor-time socially necessary on average for the production of a given commodity. Because capitalists compete to produce more than other capitalists at reduced costs and shorter intervals than others, by increasing the rate of exploitation of labor, the tendency is for a smaller part of the social value produced in social production to go into each commodity. On the one hand, since surplus-value is the difference between the value of labor measured in wages and greater value produced by labor and realized in consumption, the class of wage-earners cannot absorb all of the value made by their activity collectively, because it is compelled to give up more of its labor than what is returned to it in the form of commodities. Therefore, they cannot realize the total value of their labor-power, and some of it, after it is appropriated by the capitalist owner of commodities (wages and means of production), is neither destined for profit or consumption by capital, but rather for its reconversion into the capital advanced in production. These separate, independent acts of exchange - buying and selling - are expressed in Marx's formula:


Where C is the value of commodities and M is money, and C' > C. This is not the same as the formula for simple exchange:


Here, the owner of commodities exchanges the product that is from its standpoint an exchange-value, for another commodity that it demands as a use-value. The money it turns its product into in the act of sale, it reconverts into a commodity in the act of purchase. If this were all that capitalist exchange consisted of in all of its different phases of production, there would be an absolute equilibrium between supply and demand of commodities in general, and overproduction would not exist.

No comments:

Post a Comment