[OPE-L:7472] Stages of subsumption

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Thu Jul 25 2002 - 18:10:39 EDT

[Was:  re "definitely not Chapter 5"]

Pauolo writes:

>I was wondering whether or not we have entered a new subsumption phase.
>Following Gilīs scheme we had: no subsumption; formal subsumption; real
>subsumption. Real subsumption, however, is unable to mobilize workersī
>spirits in favor of capitalīs expansion of value. There have sprung,
>nowadays, new ways of harnessing workersī will in accordance to capitalīs
>purpose: a variety of fancy names whose sole purpose is to improve the
>conditions under which labor power can be more advantageously transformed
>into labor (to use R. Edwards formulation in Contested Terrain). Could we
>be entering a phase of Subjective Subsumption of labor, the subsumption
>of laborersī spirit, an acomplishment capital had not achieved either
>under formal nor under real subsumption?

This is an intriguing suggestion for developing the basic schema linking 
forms of subsumption to stages of capitalist development.  For what it's 
worth, Marx appears to regard "mobiliz[ation of] workers' spirits in favor 
of capital's expansion of value" as a corollary effect of real subsumption, 
per this passage from K.I that Mike L first brought to my attention:

"The advance of capitalist production develops a working class which by 
education, tradition and habit looks upon the requirements of that mode of 
production as self-evident natural laws.  The organization of the 
capitalist process of production, once it is fully developed, breaks down 
all resistance.  The constant generation of a relative surplus population 
[which Marx associates with the process of generating relative surplus 
value, and thus with the effects of real subsumption--GS] keeps the law of 
the supply and demand of labour, and therefore wages, within narrow limits 
which correspond to capital's valorization requirements.  The silent 
compulsion of economic relations sets the seal on the domination of the 
capitalist over the worker." [I, p. 899, Penguin or Pelican]

For what it's worth, were I to try to reconcile the set of phenomena 
addressed by Edwards in Contested Terrain with Marx, I would say they all 
involved instances of real subsumption, but addressed an aspect of worker 
productivity, i.e. labor intensity, that Marx routinely acknowledged but 
tended to give less emphasis relative to the role of technical changes.  As 
you've suggested, the organizational changes Edwards speaks of are 
addressed to the problem of getting workers to work harder in 
profit-creating ways. But since this would imply greater output per labor 
hour, the result if successful would be again an increase in relative 
surplus value, which Marx links to the condition of real subsumption.

Having said all this, I'll repeat that my primary effort in this discussion 
has been to clarify what Marx actually said concerning both the theoretical 
and historical connections between forms of subsumption and forms and 
degrees of capitalist exploitation, rather than to argue for a particular 
emendation of this account.  An effort along the former lines appears 
necessary, or at least fruitful, in light of the evolution of Marx's 
analysis of these matters from the writing of the Grundrisse notebooks to 
his publication of K.I, the general unfamiliarity of Marxist economists 
with the material in the Economic Mss. of 1861-63, and the complication 
introduced by his seemingly 11th-hour decision to leave the material now 
embodied in the _Resultate_ out of the final version of K.I.

It seems to me that attempts to emend Marx's account must begin with an 
explicit understanding of what analytical end one is trying to achieve via 
the revision.  For example, I have some presumptive affinity for Mike's 
suggested *property-relations* approach to developments in the circuit of 
capital, which I would contrast with Marx's *production-relations* 
approach. [For example, as I understand Marx, he distinguishes formal 
subsumption from what came before on the basis of a particular shift in the 
"relations of domination and subordination" in production, specifically 
involving direct capitalist oversight of the production process; in 
contrast, as I understand Mike, he contrasts formal subsumption with what 
came before based on a historical shift in the class distribution of means 
of production.  By this reading (if I understand it), once the 
preponderance of means of production were owned by capitalists, they 
enjoyed the right to exercise direct control over the production process, 
and having this right is what really matters, whether or not they exercise 

Again for what it's worth, this position is complementary to one I've 
argued now in a couple of articles and a current working paper.   I've 
argued that the advent of formal subsumption (in Marx's sense of the term) 
was tied historically to the expropriation of means of production from 
workers, for this reason:  once workers were expropriated, capitalists lost 
a key lever for inducing higher levels of work intensity:  the threat of 
loss of collateral if production loans were not repaid.  In turn, the 
forfeiture of collateral in cases where the interest on production loans 
(or the required mix of final products and raw material advanced, in the 
putting-out relationship) was not paid helped accelerate the process of 

Note that the latter consideration addresses a puzzle raised in the passage 
from the Grundrisse cited by Mike L. in his post 7445.
Near the end of page 510 [Penguin or Vintage ed.], in a passage purporting 
to explain the progression from putting-out to capitalist production,  Marx 
says "....[the putting-out capitalist] buys their labour and takes their 
property first in the form of the product, and soon after that the 
instrument as well, or he leaves it to them as sham property, in order to 
reduce his own production costs."

But wait a second--how does an exchange relationship based on the advance 
of raw materials and payment by the piece for finished products 
incorporating these materials allow capitalists to appropriate the *means 
of production* of the putters-out? *Unless* as a form of collateral, direct 
or indirect, for unmet interest charges or unreturned raw 
materials....?  To assert otherwise is to suggest that the workers paid the 
capitalists for the opportunity to convert their raw materials into final 
products!  --A neat trick, even for monopsonistic capitalists.


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