Marx notes (from last week)

These are my notes from last week, reposted so they’re also on the blog. Maybe we can also categorize our blog posts with what week they’re for?

Full disclosure: This is the first Marx I’ve ever read, and I had a bit of trouble getting into this. In this regard I found reading Read to be very helpful. I initially started with the Marx (since it was my piece for this week), was having a bit of trouble, and thus moved on to the other pieces. Since the Read does an analysis of a bunch of Marx, including many bits from this piece, that really helped me get a better grip on what arguments Marx was making (that Read was critiquing).

I usually start my notes off with some attempt to summarize where the author is coming from, or what else they’ve written, etc., but I’m guessing that’s not super necessary here? Karl Marx: Lived 1818-1883, German philosopher/[long list of things]/etc., most popularly known for the Communist Manifesto.

At the top of this web page, it states that this piece was written in 1863 (an essay in a notebook of Marx’s Economic Manuscripts). The description here indicates it’s tied to the sixth chapter of Capital. In Read it is further contextualized as a discarded draft of this chapter, left out of the final published volume. So that’s pretty interesting (especially with Read proposing that Marx is here perhaps at the limit of his thought).

This piece starts off with the concept of “surplus value,” the new value created by production and primary basis for capital accumulation. It defines a difference between absolute and relative surplus value. The former is obtained through increasing the amount of time worked per working during a period. Relative surplus value is obtained through a combination of means, including reducing wages and the cost of wage-goods so that wage increasies can be curbed, while increasing productivity and the intensity of labor (through the development and implementation of new technologies).

These separate types of surplus value are each connected also to separate forms of the subsumption of labor under capital, and these are the concepts that Read points out as being almost entirely excluded from the rest of Marx’s work. The “formal subsumption” of labor under capital rests on absolute surplus value. Here, labor is subordinated to capital because though the worker and buyer/consumer meet as supposed “equals” to exchange something (the worker’s labor), they are not really equals, because the buyer/consumer controls “the objective conditions of the worker’s labor” (the raw materials, his working space, etc.). This thus creates a relation of domination and subordination. Yet compared to slavery, serfdom, etc., this is only a change in the form of domination/subordination (hence the “formal subsumption”).

Then he discusses medieval guilds, passing skilled knowledge down from member to member in a protected form, preserved as a mystery. He contrasts this, and producing for stray customers, to the worker who works regularly, and works in exchange for wages. This is contrasted with slavery by saying that a worker “learns to master himself” through the ways he spends his wages.

Once there are enough workers working, it becomes desirable to control this so that “only the number of people profitable to capital is necessary” — it’s all about maximizing profits with respect to the number of workers, wages, etc. This is accomplished through the “real subsumption” of labor under capital. This is, as discussed earlier, developed in forms which produce relative surplus value (though these things might also simultaneously increase absolute surplus value as well). This requires a minimum amount of capital invested in labor, cooperation of workers, and common conditions among workers (producing equal working environments for workers in order to normalize working conditions). This requires less labor time (thus saving more money for the buyer of labor in wages, while producing more capital). Also, capitalist property is now owned socially rather than privately.

In the last section he’s talking about transitions between these two forms of the subsumption of labor under capital. Some of these are trading capital and interest-bearing capital.

Near the bottom is where he refers to domestic industry as “one of the most dreadful forms of production existing” — more on this in Read (but it seems to be mostly drawing from elsewhere, there, as I recall).


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