Re: [OPE-L] Another thought about valorisation

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Tue Jul 25 2006 - 05:42:39 EDT

>"Würde der Mehrwert einfach konsumiert, so hätte sich das Kapital nicht
>verwertet und nicht produziert als Kapital, d. h. als Wert, der den Wert
>produziert." (Grundrisse, EVA edition, p. 348) .

>Nicolaus translates this as: "If the surplus value were simply consumed,
>then capital would not have realized itself as capital, and not produced
>itself as capital, i.e. as value which produces value". (Nicolaus edition,
>p. 444). 

This theoretical point is crucial to understanding the notion of over accumulation
of capital. Marx sees exponential growth in value as being the signature
of capital m-c-m'-c'-m''  etc and this exponential growth ultimately comes
into conflict with the limited size of the working population with the consequence
that the rate of profit falls. In some ways this conception was somewhat easier
to grasp in the Grundrisse than in Capital. 

One should however have a certain caution about it. Although this unlimited self
expanding valorisation is conceptually key to the notion of capital, one can
not conclude that real capitalist systems will always exhibit this clearly.
At times der Mehrwert *ist* einfach konsumiert. The bourgoisie as it
degenerates into a rentier class can become similar to the aristocracy
it replaced. This was most evident in late Victorian society.

It will become a crucial issue in the future trajectory of capitalism whether
the Chinese bourgoisie develops in that way.

-----Original Message-----
From: OPE-L [mailto:OPE-L@SUS.CSUCHICO.EDU] On Behalf Of Jurriaan Bendien
Sent: 24 July 2006 21:15
Subject: [OPE-L] Another thought about valorisation

I suppose another reason for using the term "valorisation" as a
terminological convention is, because Marx uses the concept of Verwertung
both (i)  as a noun, (ii) as an adjective and (iii) as a verb, as well as
contrasting it (iv) with its opposites (Entwertung, entwertet etc.), so you

- "the valorisation of capital"
- "valorised capital"
- "to valorise capital"
- "the devalorisation of capital"
- "devalorised capital"
- "to devalorise capital"

and these refer to one process, and the inverse of this process. Thus Marx
writes for example:

"Würde der Mehrwert einfach konsumiert, so hätte sich das Kapital nicht
verwertet und nicht produziert als Kapital, d. h. als Wert, der den Wert
produziert." (Grundrisse, EVA edition, p. 348) .

Nicolaus translates this as: "If the surplus value were simply consumed,
then capital would not have realized itself as capital, and not produced
itself as capital, i.e. as value which produces value". (Nicolaus edition,
p. 444).

Alternative translation: "If the surplus value were simply consumed, then
capital would not have valorized and produced itself as capital, i.e. as
value which produces value".

The question is really, if for Marx Verwertung meant the same as
Realisation, why then did he mention "Verwertung" at all, why did he not
talk about "Realisierung" instead?

The real answer is that for Marx, Verwertung and Realisierung refer to
DIFFERENT moments in the capital accumulation process, not to be confused:

 - the former to the gain in value within the production process through the
application of living labour,
- the latter to the (successful) exchange of the new value produced for
money which can be re-invested (meaning the original investment was worth
it, because it yielded more new capital in money terms than one started out

Nicolaus translates Entwertung as "devaluation", but technically, the type
of devaluation that Marx has in mind is a *very specific* one: the loss in
value of productive capital assets purchased, due to an unsatisfactory
application of labour, or insufficiently productive labour (and not, for
example, currency devaluation).

In the real world of course, it is rarely the case that a capitalist firm
first borrows, then invests, then produces, then sells product, then
receives income or pays off debts in a linear sequence. Rather, all these
things are all happening at more or less the same time, which is one reason
why the "internal rate of return" can be so difficult to measure, and why a
businessman often cannot say what his own business is currently really worth
as a going concern. What Marx is talking about is the value proportions
within this process, and the aggregate results of the process, their social

In itself, the concept of "Verwertung" and its opposite are not difficult to
understand, the problems arise only when this concept is confused with other
related concepts. Thus, at a certain point, Nicolaus's translation becomes
total nonsense. For example, where Marx writes:

"Die Austausch andert nicht die innren Bedingungen der Verwertung; aber er
wirft sie nach aussen; gibt  ihnen selbstandige Form gegeneinander, und
lasst so die Einheit nur als innre Notwendigkeit existieren, die sich daher
ausserlich gewaltsam in den Krisen aussert" (EVA edition, p. 351),

Nicolaus translates: "Exchange does not change the inner characteristics of
realization; but it projects them to the outside, gives them a reciprocally
independent form, and thereby lets their unity exist merely as an inner
necessity, which must therefore come forcibly to the surface in crisis."
(Nicolaus edition, p. 447).

You might well ask, what the hell does Nicolaus mean here? (As if to
anticipate your puzzlement, Nicolaus in the very next sentence puts
"Entwertung" in square brackets after his use of "devaluation", and
"Verwertung" in square brackets after his use of "realization" - in other
words, he recognizes here anyhow that Marx must mean something that DIFFERS
from his chosen translation terms devaluation and realization).

Alternative translation: "Exchange does not alter the internal conditions of
valorization; but it provides an external expression of those conditions,
providing both exchange and valorization with mutually independent forms,
thus permitting their coherence to exist only as an intrinsic necessity,
which, outwardly, manifests itself forcibly in crises."

The ambiguity here is in Marx's own use of "ihnen" which could possibly
refer to different "Bedingungen", but also to both "Austausch" and
"Verwertung" respectively, but the context makes it quite clear that Marx
wants to contrast here the conditions of exchange with the conditions of
valorization. Marx's suggestion is basically that there is an "elastic"
proportionality between the creation of new product-values on the one side
and the prices they fetch through exchange (sales) on the other, but that
the possible deviations between the two are limited, and that in a crisis,
their mismatch involves a breakdown of trade, revealing that product-values
and product-prices are after all two aspects of a unity which can diverge by
only so much, if trade is to continue. The crisis manifests itself precisely
as a critical disproportion, in terms of economic value, between the
conditions of production and the conditions of trade.

On the same page, Marx makes it quite explicit that, after the newly
produced products are sold:

"Das Kapital ist jetzt also wieder als Geld gesetzt und das Geld daher in
der neuen bestimmung von realisierten Kapital, nicht bloss als realisierten
Preis der Ware" (EVA edition, p. 251)

Nicolaus translation: "Capital is thus now posited as money again, and money
therefore posited in the new aspects of realized capital, not merely as
realized price of the commodity" (Nicolaus edition, p. 447).

This is basically a correct rendering, although a more correct alternative
translation might be: "So now Capital is converted into money again, and the
money thus exists in the new guise of realized capital, not simply as the
realized price of commodities" (i.e. the "realisation of capital" denotes
specifically the after-sales moment at which the newly accrued capital
revenue is not only received, but also exists as money effectively available
for profitable re-investment).

As you will have noticed even in these few examples, Nicolaus not
infrequently turns Marx's plural into a singular (crises become crisis,
commodities become commodity, etc.). It seems - often - that he does this to
distinguish conceptually between genus and species, or the concept and its

Nicolaus also loves to use the philosophical expression "to posit, positing,
posits" etc. for the German "setzen" (which can mean all sorts of things in
different contexts), but often the effect of all this "positing" is that the
relationship which Marx actually intends to express is made vaguer in the
translation, rather than clearer.



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