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

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Fri Jul 17 2009 - 08:07:14 EDT


I offer a few additional comments. You wrote previously:

"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

But the reproduction schemes involve also luxury goods, and in principle the
reproduction schemes could be developed to include many different sectors
distinguished according to the function of output, and taking into account
imports and exports. Any society has to reproduce different types of
use-values, but point is that in capitalist society these use-values have to
be produced, reproduced and circulated according to the principles of
capital accumulation. Thus, capitalist development occurs under the
constraint that not only certain types of use values have to be produced,
but that they have to be produced in certain proportions. But the
"reproduction" Marx has in mind, is really the reproduction of the total
mass of society's capital, or more specifically, production capital.

In Theories of Surplus Value, Marx, criticizing Ricardo, describes economic
crises as being in effect a "disturbance" or interruption in the normal
reproduction process which reverberates through the whole of capitalist

"During the crisis, a man may be very pleased, if he has sold his
commodities without immediately thinking of a purchase. On the other hand,
if the value that has been realised is again to be used as capital, it must
go through the process of reproduction, that is, it must be exchanged for
labour and commodities. But the crisis is precisely the phase of
disturbance and interruption of the process of reproduction. And this
disturbance cannot be explained by the fact that it does not occur in those
times when there is no crisis."

Nuancing this idea somewhat, in reality the different sectors of the economy
develop unevenly all the time, through successive adjustments, such that
disproportions occur all the time, it is just that at a certain point, the
disproportions attain such a magnitude, that they begin to upset the normal
reproduction process as a whole. This interpretation was used by many
Marxists in the 1920s and 1930s to build theories of crisis, but such an
approach runs into the kinds of problems which I sketched in my first post -
in reality, the crisis is a crisis in trading relations afflicting
capitalist society "as a whole" and not just its mode of production,
reducing expansion, or leading even to negative reproduction (the food
crisis, for example). Reproduction theories of crisis run into the problem
that they abstract from the competition of "many capitals", but the crisis
is precisely an outcome of the competitive process, in which some avenues
for accumulation succeeded and others failed.

The question then is, why is the reproduction process in normal times free
from such large, critical disturbances, and why do those disturbances
nevertheless occur, periodically, after a certain time?

According to Marx's historical materialism, society is not held together by
a market equilibrium, but by the necessity to produce and reproduce the
werewithal of life, the "dull compulsion of economics relations". The answer
to the question appears to be that there is an uneven development in the
structure of capital, to which enterprises and markets *cannot" adjust "at a
certain juncture". Geert Reuten pursues this line of thought in discussing
the stratification of (fixed) capital, suggesting that at a certain point
the capital structure of fixed assets reduces the profitability of
investments. But no matter what the cause is (and theoretically there could
be many different causes, and these causes could combine together), this
suggests that capitalist production develops, as Marx says, spasmodically
through cycles of slumps and booms, through phases of underinvestment and
overinvestment. Regardless of contingent factors which play a role, the
theory tells us that capital accumulation creates its own barriers, which
culminate in crises.

This leads me directly to your problem of shortages and surpluses of
labour-supply: in different phases, as Marx says, alternately the production
system expels, or absorbs the excess labour capacity. But this means that
the increase of the surplus population does not necessarily have to occur in
a *linear* way, or that it is temporally-spatially evenly distributed. When
Marx talks in Capital Vol. 1 about the "absolute general law of capital
accumulation", he states only, that the larger the total mass of capital
grows, the larger the surplus population will be, this is the aggregate
historical result. The developmental capitalist "law of population" (Cap.
Vol. 1, Penguin, p. 783) is, that the fraction of the working population
which is "relatively superfluous" is "always increasing". But he goes on to
say immediately thereafter expressly that "INDEPENDENTLY of the limits of
the actual increase of population, it creates a mass of human material
always ready for exploitation by capital" (ibid., p. 784). This implies,
that the creation of a surplus population does not have anything to do per
se with population growth or demography at all, it is a "surplus" only
RELATIVE to the requirements of CAPITAL.

Therefore, I don't think your inference that "population growth will surpass
the extra labor power requirements of capital and thus the reserve army
becomes structural" is a correct reading of Marx, because in fact he does
not argue that anywhere. If population growth independently happens to
increase the mass of the surplus population, which is possible and indeed
does occur, that is a contingent historical reality, but NOT one which is
INTRINSIC to the capital accumulation process itself, other than in the
sense that business expansion makes population growth possible.

To conclude, in seeking to fathom a complex totality of any kind, we
necessarily must always use simplifying abstractions, conditionals and
ceteris paribus clauses as a starting point, gradually introducing new
assumptions and overturning old ones in building up a picture of the
workings of the totality. "Systematic dialectics" is systematic, only if it
is able to carry out this investigative process in such a way, that at the
conclusion all the elements of the totality are really related so that the
conditionals are overcome, and the totality is explained in its internal
necessity. Various procedures could however be used to reach that goal.

But in my opinion, "systematic dialectics" confuses the dialectics in the
method of inquiry with the dialectics of the method of presentation, and the
dialectics of the object, with the dialectics of the meaningful story which
we tell about the object.

We do not completely know in advance how the inquiry should proceed or what
its results will be - if we did, no inquiry would be necessary - we learn
this by grappling with the facts, and it is only when we have reached our
results, that we can provide a "systematic" narrative to describe how the
different elements of the totality are related. Marx provides a good proof
of this view himself, since the Paris manuscripts of 1844, TSV and the
Grundrisse manuscript, for example - prologues to Das Kapital - are not at
all a "systematic" dialectical analysis, but a rather unsystematic,
creative, free-ranging inquiry in which different issues are not neatly

In truth, "systematic dialectics" is only a controversy about the puzzle of
how the concepts, categories and principles should be correctly ordered, in
order to reach an understanding of the totality, but to the extent that this
is only a philosophical inquiry, remote from the realities to which they
refer, it's a rather scholastic activity which seeks to find a determinacy
or internal logic in the meanings of concepts, perhaps disciplined to some
extent by the patterns of the past. Thus Hegel writes that "Theory is grey"
and that "Minerva's owl flies at dusk" - we are wise "after the fact", when
a retrospective on history has revealed, how events which cannot change
anymore, and are fixed once and for all, were, in reality, ordered.

Point however is that, as any historian knows, even such a retrospective
ordering can never be final, conclusive and definitive, since, in the course
of time, new facts come to light which cast a different interpretation on
the events that succeeded them, and thus, that the meaning of the past is
modified by what happens in the future. That is just to say, that the
understanding of the totality which we achieve, depends partly on how we
make our own history ourselves.


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