Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Structure and Essence in Capital I: Extra Surplus-Value and the Stages of Capitalism

Academic journal article Journal of Australian Political Economy

Structure and Essence in Capital I: Extra Surplus-Value and the Stages of Capitalism

Article excerpt

Abstract wealth, value, money, hence abstract labour, develop in the measure that concrete labour becomes a totality of different modes of labour embracing the world market (Marx, 1972: 253).

Is the Global Shift of Production 'Beyond Capital'?

The global 'race to the bottom' is a fundamental challenge for Marxism, the scale of which we are still coming to terms with. The strategic point at issue is the significance of the shift of production to the 'global South' (China included). We are facing the full reality of capitalism as globalised imperialism. This issue concerns both the structure and the agency of the working class in its relation with capital. Rereading Capital with this in mind introduces the question of how Capital should be augmented with the mediating concepts of imperialism and underdevelopment to meet this reality. Is there a concept of imperialism already present in Capital, at least in embryo? How would such a reading inform the debate over what it means to go 'beyond Capital' in analysing contemporary capitalism?

In Marx's discussion of the commodity's form of value, its exchange value, he comments that Aristotle had realised that commodities must have a quality that makes them commensurable, 'an internal unity of the two things rather than their abstract identity' as Ilyenkov puts it (1982: 93). But, without any concept of value, Aristotle came to a halt in his analysis of what this internal unity might be. Marx explains why Aristotle had to stop where he did:

because Greek society was founded on the labour of slaves, hence had as its natural basis the inequality of men and of their labour-powers. The secret of the expression of value, namely the equality and equivalence of all kinds of labour because and in so far as they are human labour in general, could not be deciphered until the concept of human equality had already acquired the permanence of a fixed popular opinion. This however becomes possible only in a society where the commodity-form is the universal form of the product of labour, hence the dominant social relation is the relation between men as possessors of commodities (Marx, 1976:151-152).

There is a pronounced double effect of the latest phase of capitalism: on the one hand, and to a degree as never before, the commodity-form is the universal form of the products of labour, commodity production is in every sense globalised and yet the notion of human inequality has 'acquired the permanence of a fixed popular opinion'. Within the human labour in general of contemporary capitalism some human labourpowers, those in the global South that are in fact the majority, are indeed worth less than others. There is once again a profound inequality of labour-powers. It would seem that globalisation is characterised by a historical reversion within capitalism. Yet, insofar as labour-power is expended in producing commodities for the world market, the statement that 'all labour is expressed as equal human labour and therefore as labour of equal quality' has never been more true. Thus, as a totality, contemporary capitalism is simultaneously diverging from and converging with the conditions of equality as presented by Marx. We can only understand this conundrum if we build on Marx's discovery of the distinction between labour-power and living labour.

In this article I argue that whilst the depression of wages is noted by Marx as a persistently emerging empirical, historical fact it does not acquire theoretical expression as a concept alongside the prolongation of the working day (absolute surplus-value) or the increased productivity of labour (relative surplus-value). The orthodox answer to this challenge is that in Capital 1 commodities sell at their value. But the tension recurs in Capital 3 the analysis of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, specifically the chapter on counteracting tendencies where Marx identifies foreign trade and 'capital invested in the colonies' using 'slaves and coolies' as measures to gain a higher rate of profit (Marx, 1981:345). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.