Accumulation, surplus, surplus labor after capitalism (Was: Fresh Hot Slavoj)

Curtiss Leung bofftagstumper at
Thu Apr 13 20:34:40 PDT 2000

(NB. Carroll wrote me an interesting note off list regarding my previous post that I may be confuting "surplus value" which obtains only under capitalism, with a general notion of "surplus." If that's the case, the same error occurs here. On the other hand, I think I could recast my argument here even given that distinction. Maybe. But here goes:)

Hi Yoshie:

You write of Marx:

> Marx's criticism of constraints on freedom is
> specific. For instance, under capitalism, we are
> compelled to produce for the sake of production (in

> other words, capital accumulates for the sake of
> accumulation), not to satisfy our concrete needs &
> desires. Freedom from the compulsive dynamic of
> M-C-M' is a rational & attainable goal, not a
> utopian yearning for freedom from all constraints on

> "productivity."

I think that's an important point to make, especially considering the oft raised charge -- as illegitimate as the claim that revolutionary urges are religious nostalgia -- that foreswearing accumulation means wearing a hair shirt. But accumulation and surplus value still play a role, but one that stems from "our concrete needs and desires" rather than bad metaphysics. Here's a passage from _Capital_ that makes, I think, this very point: ==================== Increased productivity and greater intensity of labour both have a similar effect. They both augment the mass of articles produced in a given time. Both therefore shorten that portion of the working day which the worker needs to produce his means of subsistence or their equivalent. The minimum length of the working day is fixed by this necessary component, which is however itself capable of further contraction. If the whole working day were to shrink to the length of its necessary component, surplus labour would vanish, something which is impossible under the regime of capital. Only the abolition of the capitalist form of production would permit the reduction of the working day to the necessary labour-time. But even in that case the latter would expand to take up more of the day, and for two reasons: first, because the worker's conditions of life would improve, and his aspirations become greater, and second, because a part of what is now surplus labour would then count as necessary labour, namely the labour which is necessary for the formation of a social fund for reserve and accumulation. ... The intensity and productivity of labour being given, the part of the social working day necessarily taken up with material production is shorter and, as a consequence, the time at society's disposal for the free intellectual and social activity of the individual is greater, in proportion as work is more and more evenly divided among all the able-bodied members of society (p. 666-667, Ben Fowkes translation) ====================

-- BUT -- If I can endorse Zizek's program of criticizing Marx without endorsing his specific criticism of Marx (and I think this passage refutes Zizek's objections), I think the emphasis here on increased productivity and accumulation after the abolition of the capitalist mode of production is confusing at least. If the working day were to shrink while standards of living rose, who's to say that accumulation would inevitably continue?

Now the passage you cite from the _Grundrisse_ shows that Marx included creative and expressive acts in the category of labor, just as here Marx notes "the time at society's disposal for the free intellectual and social activity of the individual is greater," but including this labor in production that could be accumulated doesn't make sense.

To put it differently: without the capitalist mode of production, what *was* surplus value expropriated by the capitalist, by raising the standard of living, becomes necessary labor -- so it's quite possible that the standard of living rises while the length of the working day falls. Good, fine, swell. But if man changes his own nature by changing the external world, the most I could reasonably say about life after the capitalist mode of production would be that accumulation and increased productivity *would be an option* -- that's it.

In fine, my criticism of Marx would be that when he writes that the end of the capitalist mode of production means the end of pre-history, he makes the point that increased productivity and accumulation becomes optional. But when he lumps together the potential scope of activities for individuals after the capitalist mode of production under the category of labor, he loses or blurs this point. -- Curtiss

__________________________________________________ Do You Yahoo!? Send online invitations with Yahoo! Invites.

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list