Re: [OPE-L] glossary for V1 of _Capital

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Wed Jan 09 2008 - 04:08:14 EST

I don't think that in general tax contributes to accumulation at all. It
usually used to finance current expenditure, much of which is
unproductive. Capital accumulation by the state is more commonly
financed by the issue of bonds.


From: OPE-L [mailto:OPE-L@SUS.CSUCHICO.EDU] On Behalf Of Ian Hunt
Sent: 09 January 2008 00:22
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] glossary for V1 of _Capital


Dear Juriaan,

Surely that is a bit swift? Taxation may (or may not-it is an empirical
matter) give rise to the largest accumulations of money in modern
societies but only part of these accumulations functions as capital: a
large part of tax receipts are spent on other than money making
government activities. Even if it were true that taxation yields the
largest accumulation of money functioning as capital, it is dos not seem
to me a particularly compelling reason for Marx's ideas to go out of
fashion. More compelling reasons surely relate to the apparently
continuing progressive role of capitalism: however, changes in fashion
are not entirely based on sound reasons so you might be right about the
impact of taxation on the popularity of marxism, though i doubt it




        Generically, accumulation (Latin: accumulo) refers to the act of
piling up, storing up, or amassing things in plentitude, sometimes with
the connotation of hoarding, and often referring to the amassment of
wealth and thus by implication enrichment.


        Marx and Engels commented at times on the "limited use of
definitions". We use definitions to indicate and fix phenomena, and
permit the abstract manipulation of their symbolizations, but the
important thing is to understand the real process, movement,
development, relations etc. behind the definitions. Generally, a
dialectical definition tries to grasp a phenomenon as a dynamic totality
involving opposed but mutually presupposing forces, which reveals the
essential relations involved, and their mediations.


        Problems arise, if we confuse or conflate the fixity of a
definition with the real phenomenon to which it refers, which is subject
to change in the dimension of time. Good definitions are therefore
arrived at by historical thinking, i.e. thinking which incorporates the
dimension of temporal change. The problem of language to which e.g.
Alfred Korzybski also referred is really that much suffering can result
out of the confusion and conflation between linguistic expressions and
the real objects to which they refer.
        In their critiques of the young Hegelian philosophers, Marx and
Engels provide a similar thought. At issue here is the practice of
"linguistic apposition", or, in plain language, concept mongering,
whereby the philosopher claims to achieve knowledge about the world
through speculative, semantic manipulations which rely on language use
and etymology. The critique is really that this thinking is thinking
separated from the object to which it refers, or more generally,
thinking undisciplined by empirical experience and logical rigor.
Effectively it confuses science with story-teling. One concept can be
derived from another by inventing a relationship between them, but the
necessary connection between them is spurious and arbitrary - the same
concept could also be derived from, or related to another concept in any
way we fancy, the only limit being a sense of credibility or
plausibility. In this way, we could "prove" anything we like, but the
proof is spurious, it relies only on the chosen definition of terms. The
real question is whether the definitions adequately capture a reality
which exists independently of those definitions, but to find this out,
we have to investigate reality itself (and its representations in
thought) systematically.


        Thus, for example, an adequate "definition" of capital
accumulation presupposes a real inquiry into the reality of capital

        Accumulation does not presuppose the existence of capital, but
generally capital presupposes the existence of money (special situations
can of course be found where commodities are bartered for other
commodities, as in countertrade, resulting in accumulation of capital,
or advantageous leasing, renting or hiring not involving money, but
usually a general monetary expression is still assumed).
        The simplest definition of capital accumulation is therefore the
amassment of capital, of assets which can function as capital. Since
these assets are usually expressible in monetary value, we could
alternatively say "the amassment of money" as a shorthand.

        The amassment could occur in different ways. The main ways are
(1) to take or receive stuff from somebody else unilaterally, (2) to
trade or exchange stuff bilaterally or (3) to produce additional stuff,
from which you can derive many other sorts of variants and combinations
depending on what rights, duties and obligations apply. This presupposes
recognizable property rights however. If there are no property rights,
you could also simply appropriate from the surroundings without 1, 2 and
3 occurring at all ("natural appropriation" or "communistic
        The economic definition of capital accumulation however refers
to the process whereby a quantity of assets expressible in money (a
value) is transformed into a larger quantity (a larger value). Since
that process can take innumerable forms, capital accumulation can also
take a great variety of forms. A "theory" of this consists of valid
generalisations from experience about those forms, providing a coherent
explanation of how and why they occur. Much of Das Kapital consists of a
"form analysis" in this sense, showing how one form leads to, or is
related to, other forms.
        The intrinsic ambiguity of the concept is really that
accumulation could imply either a transfer (redistribution) of wealth,
or a net addition to wealth, or both in combination. We could for
instance claim we are adding to wealth, while we are in fact only
transferring it, on the ground e.g. that the transfer is a necessary
condition for a net addition to wealth, which in turn may involve a
particular idea about what wealth is anyway.
        The mystification of accumulation depends on fudging the notions
of transfer versus net addition, of wealth, and of property relations,
and out of that mystification we can build an ideology of accumulation
which helps justify the possession of assets by some and not others. 
        The largest single category of capital accumulation in modern
society is taxation. This is largely ignored in the Marxist literature,
which may help to explain why Marxism went out of fashion.


        look in your glossary, there's a picture of me under failure.
        i could be sitting there. waiting w/ you for an hour or two.
        subways and motorcars both seem to linger forever
        i see you fall away, your scream it's melting the hours
        i didn't make enough time for you.
        i could've had anything but threw away everything
        i didn't make enough time for you.
        i should've done something but i did nothing at all
        i see a foreign girl pasting her new suit together
        i see you far away cursing the saddest survivors.


        - The Rosenbergs, "Glossary"




Associate Professor Ian Hunt,
Dept  of Philosophy, School of Humanities,
Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy,
Flinders University of SA,
Humanities Building,
Bedford Park, SA, 5042,
Ph: (08) 8201 2054 Fax: (08) 8201 2784

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