[OPE-L:7216] Re: Marx on solving human problems

From: Hans Ehrbar (ehrbar@econ.utah.edu)
Date: Sun May 19 2002 - 07:52:36 EDT


when I said "external contradiction" I was not referring to
a general rift between humans and nature -- I agree with you
that there is none -- but I meant that it is a contradiction
that is external for capital.  Here are some examples:

The falling rate of profit is the prototype example of an
internal contradiction for capital, because it is a
contradiction between the goals of capital, profits, and the
means which capital itself developed to reach this goal,
rising productivity, which cannot be had without rising
organic composition of capital.

The limited length of the work day started out as an
external contradiction: here capital's search for profits
encountered barriers which were not of its own making.
However capital could take it on board and work around it:
once the length of the working day was fixed, this was not
the end for the expansion of surplus-value and profits, but
they could be increased by intensification of labor and by
shortening necessary labor (relative surplus-value).

The limited productivity of the labor process was another
contradiction which started out as an external
contradiction: at the beginning the capitalists applied the
traditional labor processes which were developed in
pre-capitalist times.  But since they, in order to make
enough surplus-value, employed many laborers side by side,
the capitalists unwittingly created the preconditions for
cooperative labor processes.  In this way capital created
the "specifically capitalist mode of production" or "real
subsumption of the labor process to capital."  The
production process became something internal to the capital
relations, shaped by capital, and shaped in capital's image.

The limited size and ultimately declining growth rate of the
exploitable population was another external barrier to
capital.  Again, capital could internalize this barrier by
replacing workers by machines and by creating a

I guess in the light of this I must explain why can the
limitation of the resources of our planet not be
internalized, like for instance the limited length of the
working-day?  I would argue along two lines:

(1) when capital tries to lengthen the working day, it
pinches the working class and the working class fights back,
they have the power and the political institutions to fight
back.  Rain forests and the ozone layer of the antarctic ice
shield cannot fight back in the same way.

(2) In the working day there was one parameter that had
to be fixed and defended against capital's expansionary
drive: the number of hours workers were required to work.
Regarding the ecological limits there are millions of
parameters and tradeoffs.  Even if the political power
were there to regulate all this, whatever regulation
you impose, there would always be new ways to abuse
nature which are not covered by existing regulations.
The simple one-dimensional expansionary drive of capital
cannot be reconciled with our ecological limits.

Hans G. Ehrbar.

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