RE: [OPE] The availabilty of labor power in the context of expanded reproduction schemes

From: Damsma, D.F. <>
Date: Wed Jul 15 2009 - 06:57:38 EDT

Dear Paul C, , Gerald L. and Jurriaan,
Thanks a lot for your responses. It sure helps my thinking. First up: my interest in this matter stems from my interest in (presumed) Marxian systematic dialectics. From that perspective, the reproduction schemes deal with relations between Capital's two great necessarily accumulating departments. The moment of many competing capitals, let alone internationally competing ones is introduced later. Hence, empirical considerations on nation states or historical eras should be eschewed for now. Anything we posit at this stage should be (abstractly) valid for capitalism as a system, no matter how its contingencies are filled in.
If one asks whether the assumptions Marx makes at this stage are justified by his systematic dialectical presentation up to that point, one finds that the assumption of a constant value composition of capital is not dialectically motivated at any rate. But the assumption of labor power being always on hand could be, for Marx refers back to earlier stages of his presentation and what is posited at earlier stages should hold for all later stages, albeit in a mediated and not an immediate way. But in these earlier stages it appears the assumption is methodologically (as opposed to empirically) justified through changes in vcc. Hence, if a constant vcc is assumed later on, this invalidates the systematic dialectical motivation for the assumed availability of labor power. Thus, the two assumptions appear to be incompatible.
Now, as I see it, there appear to be two ways out of this:
1) One may argue that the (dialectical) motivation for the availability of labor power in Capital I should be accepted at this level, for what holds in the abstract must hold in the more concrete stages of the presentation. Then the assumption of a constant vcc would have to go.
2) One may argue that the motivation for accepting the assumption of the availability of labor power is different in both stages. That is, in the reproduction schemes it is assumed in order to make the strongest case possible for proportional growth, not because of a belief that such proportionality is likely or even possible, but to bring out the general constraints to such growth. In that case, one would argue that given the assumption of a constant vcc, ongoing accumulation is only possible if the availability of labor power does not restrict accumulation at any point. Although that would imply that Marx's reference was insufficiently thought through, it is the interpretation I would fancy (and I feel Paul C. concurs) if these two choices are indeed the only ones available .
But hopefully there is a third way out of this incompatibility that only makes use of institutions and trends posited before or at the level of abstraction we're at here, for neither of the two solutions above is very satisfactory.
Kind regards,


Van: namens Jurriaan Bendien
Verzonden: wo 15-7-2009 9:53
Aan: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
Onderwerp: [OPE] The availabilty of labor power in the context of expandedreproduction schemes

I cannot tell what the precise theoretical relevance or significance of the
problematic is, as put, but three quick theoretical points may be of some

(1) Marx writes: "In order for the circuit [of capital] to run its normal
course, C' must be sold at its value and as a whole. Furthermore, C-M-C does
not just include the replacement of one commodity by another, but its
replacement in the same value relations. We have made the assumption that
this is what happens here. In fact, however, the value of the means of
production varies; capitalist production is precisely marked by a continuous
change in value relations, if only because of constant change in the
productivity of labour that characterizes it. We shall deal with this change
in the value of the factors of production later, and for the moment we will
merely indicate it." (Capital Vol 2, Pelican, p. 153). The reference seems
to be to chapter 15, p. 362ff op. cit. - in chapter 21, Marx notes that "It
is assumed here" that the reinvested sum of realised capital "is sufficient
under the given technical conditions, either for the extension of the
constant capital already functioning, or for the installation of a new
industrial business. It may be necessary , however, to transform
surplus-value into money and hoard this money for a much longer time before
this process takes place, i.e. before real accumulation, an expansion of
production, can occur. (2) It is presupposed that there has in fact already
been reproduction on an expanded scale..." (ibid. p. 565-566).

(2) Marx himself argues that in the course of capitalist development "Above
all, [capital] overturns all the legal and traditional barriers that would
prevent it from buying this or that kind of labour-power as it sees fit, or
from appropriating this or that kind of labour" (Capital Vol. 1, p. 1013).
Although Marx seeks to examine the capitalist mode of production in its pure
form or ideal average, which is an abstraction, he feels this abstraction is
justified because the development of capital wil have the result that the
pure form or ideal average is increasingly approximated. However, any
comprehensive analysis of the institutions of the labour market is lacking
in Das Kapital, presumably because the primary focus is on the laws of
motion of capital. Marx admits that, even if the economic relationship
involved in the sale of labour-power stays the same, contingently "wages can
[contractually] take many forms" - his concept of capital does not assume
the "necessity" of any particular wage-form, although he says piece wages
are the form "most adequate" to capitalist production - and he intended to
analyze all this in a special study of wage-labour (ibid., p. 638) but he
never did so. This is a serious gap in his theory, since the regulation of
wage-labour (including the mediation of class conflicts) is also a condition
for economic reproduction.

(3) In my opinion, eminent Marxists such as Geert Reuten, Paul Cockshott and
Thomas Sekine still confuse Marx's analysis of economic reproduction with a
general equilibrium analysis, according to which market activity creates,
constitutes and converges on economic equilibrium (a bourgeois ideology).
Thus, the conditions for "economic reproduction" are interpreted as stating
the conditions for "economic equilibrium". But this idea in my opinion rests
on at least five theoretical errors, namely:

(a) what is necessary for the reproduction of capital or the capitalist mode
of production (if you like, the "economic structure" of production
relations), is conflated with what is necessary from the reproduction of
capitalist society as a whole, the latter which includes state policy (and,
as said, the regulation of labour markets), non-productive assets and a
non-market domain,
(b) the problem of economic equilibrium is confused with market
(supply/demand) equilibrium and the problem of social order (the
preservation of social institutions),
(c) The cyclical reproduction processes exhibit great flexibility and
degrees of variability (elasticity), and the conditions for reproduction
state only some "minimal" and "maximal" conditions or limits which must be
met for the existence and growth of the capitalist system as a whole;
irrespective of whether growth is positive or negative, or whether it is 1%
or 5%, economic reproduction will occur anyway.
(d) the primary condition for capitalist equilibrium is not the efficient
functioning of markets - a bourgeois ideology! - but the preservation,
stability and growth of capitalist private property relations,
(e) equilibrium is an abstraction which does not exist in the economy, which
is characterized by a perpetual uneven, contradictory or unequal
development, in which there are incessant market fluctuations and
interruptions of the normal reproduction process which recurrently culminate
in economic and political crises; as a corrolary, economic stability or
price stability, expressed by the relative constancy of economic variables,
should not be confused with equilibrium - capitalist growth for Marx occurs
precisely in response to, and in adjustment to, continual market imbalances,
which do not necessarily converge on any equilibrium state, in particular
because of differentials between "actual" and "potential" market

In general, there is no empirical proof of economic equilibrium of any sort,
other than that prices remain stable, or, that the proportions between price
aggregates stay relatively constant, but this is only a statistical
equilibrium viewed across an interval of time, which tends to mask
real-world price and market fluctuations. I provide a very brief general
discussion of economic reproduction here:


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