[OPE-L:162] "the point of view of capital"

Tony Smith (tonys@iastate.edu)
Thu, 28 Sep 1995 08:03:23 -0700

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Here is a passage from the Grundrisse that is think is relevant to the
question whether Capital is written "from the point of view of capital"
so that there is a need for a separate book on wage labor:

"From the point of view of capital, it does not appear that one of the
elements of social activity (objectified labour) has become the ever
more powerful body of the other element (subejctive, living labour);
rather it appears (and this is important for wage-labour) that the
objective conditions of labour have become more and more colossally
independent of living labour - which is shown by their very extent - and
social wealth becoems, in ever greater and greater proportions, an alien
and dominanting force opposing the worker. Stress is placed no on the
state of objectification but on the state of alienation, estrangement,
adn abandonment, on the fact that the enormous power which social labour
has opposed to itself as one of its elements belongs not to the worker
but to the conditions of production that are personified in capital.
So long as the creation of this material form of activity, objectifed
in contrast to immediate labour power, occurs on the basis of capital
and wage-labour, and so long as this process of objectification in fact
seems to be a process of alienation as far as the worker is concerned,
or to be the appropriation of aline labour from the capitalist's point
of view, so long will this distortion and this inversion really exist
and not merely occur in the imagination of both workers and capitalists."
(KM: SELECTED WRITINGS, ed. by McLellan, 384-85)

As I understand it, "the capitalists' point of view" is that "the
conditions of production are personified in capital," but require the
"appropriation of alien labor" by capital to be used. The point of view
of wage labor, in contrast, has two dimensions. There is, first, the
everyday lived experience of confronting conditions of production that
are alien to them and controlled by capital. And there is the
scientific understanding these conditions of production are objectified
labor, that is, nothing more than "the ever more powerful body" of
living labor.

The above passage may be from the GRUNDRISSE, but as far as I can see
the same distinctions apply to CAPITAL. Capital clearly includes
analyses undertaken from the standpoint of capital, in which labor
appears as an alien commodity to be appropriated and subsumed under
capital in the form of variable capital. But CAPITAL also includes
phenomenological descriptions of the lived experience of workers,
for whom the conditions of production appear to be alien forces. And CAPITAL
also obviously includes the thesis that these conditions of production
are nothing but objectified labor. This last thesis is the point of the
whole theory, the understanding of which is the most important condition
of the possibility of wage laborers becoming revolutionary agents. And
this is a thesis that can only be articulated from the standpoint of
wage labor; from the standpoint of capital wage labor is never anything
more than variable capital, a form of capital investment that requires
special attention if it is to be used most efficiently.

I must confess I haven't studied all the drafts of Marx's outline of his
system for awhile. But if the above is accurate, the following
hypothesis seems plausible. At first he intended to write a separate
book from the standpoint of capital, in which "stress [would be] placed
not on the state of objectification but on the state of alienation."
But then he realized that it would be far better to deconstruct this
perspective immediately after presenting it. And so when he finally
came to write things up we find the theory of exploitation - a theory
constructed from the standpoint of wage labor, not capital.

Tony Smith (tonys@iastate.edu)