march 28 2021
“This preliminary discussion implies an understanding of the overcoming of alienation very different from that posited by traditional Marxism. It suggests that Marx regarded the industrial mode of production developed under capitalism and the intrinsic historical dynamic of that society as characteristic of the capitalist social formation. This historical negation of that formation would, then, entail the abolition of both the historically dynamic system of abstract domination and the industrial capitalist mode of production. In the same vein, the developed theory of alienation implies that marx saw the negation of the structural core of capitalism as allowing for the appropriation by people of the powers and knowledge that had been historically constituted in alienated form. Such appropriation would entail the material transcendence of the earlier split between the narrowed and impoverished individual and the alienated general productive knowledge of society by an incorporation of the latter in the former” (Time, Labor and Social Domination, Postone. Pg. 31-32)
Alienation happens at multiple, interrelated levels of abstraction, Postone is distinguishing between two: 1) the particular level, in which the product of a worker’s surplus labour is stolen via the social arrangement extant in the labour process under capitalism. 2) the general level, where the development of human knowledge and skill in totality is constituted in objective forms (tools and machinery, for instance) which exist beyond our reach. These forms are omnipresent but confront us in every case as external. This is the specific result of the capitalist production process wherein objectified labour is exchanged for living labour. The development of bourgeois society is procured by the reduction of human beings into mere laborers, by the positing of all of their time as labour-time for which an increasingly small portion is compensated. This is a process specifically aimed at diminishing the amount of one’s necessary labour-time to its bare minimum and one’s surplus labour-time to its maximum. This process is what Marx refers to as the creation of relative surplus value. This same process has a natural limit because human beings have finite levels of endurability and capability, and it therefore becomes impossible after a certain extent without the application of science and technology to the labour process. The augmention of labour via technology allows for a vast acceleration of the division of labour and now labour assumes increasingly specific forms as fragmentary components belonging to a more comprehensive labor process (over time, the work of a chairmaker is subdivided into the work of a sawyer, a joiner, a turner, and a weaver) and this sacrifices robust, human development at the level of the individual in service of the development of the whole society, a development which under capitalism only appears in the form of private wealth (commodities, objectified labour, exchange values, capital) A brief reflection on this form reveals the opposite course of events led to its appearance: under capitalism, the development of the individual (the capitalist) is secured at the expense of the society (the workers).
“A central hallmark of capitalism...is that people do not really control their own productive activity or what they produce but ultimately are dominated by the results of that activity.”
march 23, 2021
“The reproduction of capital also contains the reproduction of the use values in which it is realized - or the constant renewal and reproduction by human labour of the use values which enter human consumption and are themselves perishable. The change of substance and of form subordinated to human need through human labour appears from the viewpoint of capital as its own reproduction. It is at bottom the constant reproduction of labour itself.” (Grundrisse, Penguin. Pg. 742)
The reproduction of the relations of production are the most important result of the entire production process. It is itself a product and it is a particular product distinct from all others because it is all products, past present and future, at once. Capital is nothing but a claim on this distinction but that is not a moral argument against capital, per se. This result is an outcome in progress, sought at various levels of consciousness by capital and labour both, it is the object desired by all agents bound up in the production process. By capital, because it is positively subject to its own laws of motion undertaken by the self-expansion of value, and by labour because it is subject negatively to the same laws. Capitalism is a historically specific form of the organization of human society, the organization of human society is nothing more than the way a people reproduce themselves, which is the transhistoric object of humanity. You would also say, in communism, that the reproduction of the relations of production are the most important result of the process. This is what is meant when it is said that the tool is more important than the immediate satisfactions provided by its use. But that in fact cannot be said because if the immediate needs of people are not met, there is no use for tools, hence no tools. It is only within a mode of production based on domination where it can be said that the indefinite preservation of the conditions of production occupy an ulterior lair, in the backrooms and secret little cigar cellars of the production of life itself. Communism exposes this distinction by first dragging it out of the shadows and then abolishing the shadow, communism is high noon baby
march 16, 2021
Some brief notes connecting multiple texts regarding social relations, economic categories, and tools.
The middle sections of Grundrisse contain extensive work on the circulation of capital, which alternates between passages like the one above and “reviews” of the theories from all of his favorite enemies of political economy. It could be said that Marx’s “project” was organized around the critique of political economy, yes, but more specifically it revolved around the investigation of the abstract categories of bourgeois economics themselves and how they are expressed in reality; or perhaps it is better to say, how they conceal reality. Here it is circulation which acts as a “haze” obscuring the social properties of the activity therein. What we are talking about when we talk about the circulation of commodities is the exchange and distribution of goods and services necessary for the production and reproduction of human life.
Alongside the “circulating capital” which is found on the market in vast quantites in a seemingly infinite supply (i.e. food, shirts, toothpaste, soap, in other words: consumables) there is also “fixed capital.” These are the types of commodities typically reserved for exchange between capitalists themselves, they are the tools which are used in the manufacture of consumables. These commodities are consumable too, but they are consumed over longer periods of time; a machine which wears out over the course of years during multiple cycles of the production process. The durability of a fixed commodity is determined by various factors and a proportional amount of its value is so preserved and transfered in to the circulating commodities which arise from its use over this duration. It is purely a matter of historical specificity that tools come to be 1) appropriated as private property (and what follows from this, capital) and 2) exchanged and 3) categorically understood through the movement of such. Compare Marx’s citation of Sismondi above with a passage from Hegel’s Logic:
“...since the end is finite it has a finite content; accordingly it is not absolute or utterly in and for itself reasonable. The means, however, is the external middle of the syllogism which is the realization of the end; in it, therefore, reasonableness manifests itself as such -- as preserving itself in this external other and precisely through this externality. To that extent the means is higher than the finite ends of external usefulness: the plough is more honourable than those immediate enjoyments which are procured by it, and serve as ends. The instrument is preserved while the immediate enjoyments pass away and are forgotten. In his tools man possesses power over external nature, even though, as regards his ends, nature dominates him.”
“Hegel’s dialectic of labor also shows why this is necessarily so: what is expressed in labour, in tools, etc., is a higher, more universal, more social principle. A new terrain is conquered which leads to a broader and deeper understanding of nature; and this conquest redounds to the advantage of not just one single man, but of mankind as a whole. And when this process continuously reproduces itself it does not lead to the monotony of “infinite progress”, but to the constant self-reproduction of human society at an ever-higher level-- even though this progress is sometimes uneven and may be punctuated by setbacks. For this reason Hegel can rightly say that tools, the means, are more valuable than the ends for which they are employed, i.e. than desire, the impulse to satisfy one’s needs.”
It can be understood by any rational mind without exception that tools are the development and property of mankind. There is no modern invention which is possible without the many centuries of technological advances which came before and lead precisely to it. Within the bourgeois galaxy brain it goes without saying that the common property of mankind should be appropriated as the private property of a certain number of its individuals and it also occurs to him that this is the way of all history. Au contraire.
“Ricardo can have only this aspect in mind when he says: ‘Depending on whether the capital is more or less perishable, hence must be more or less frequently reproduced in a given time, it is called circulating or fixed capital.’ According to this, a coffee-pot would be fixed capital, but coffee circulating capital. The crude materialism of the economists who regard as the natural properties of things what are social relations of production among people, and qualities which things obtain because they are subsumed under these relations, is at the same time just as crude an idealism, even fetishism, since it imputes social relations to things as inherent characteristics , and thus mystifies them. (the difficulty of defining a thing as fixed capital or circulating capital on the basis of its natural qualities has here, by way of exception, led the economists to the discovery that things in themselves are neither fixed not circulating, hence not capital at all, anymore than it is a natural quality of gold to be money.” pg. 687, Grundrisse (Penguin)
Cooked his little ass.