[OPE-L:163] Re: the place of environmental topics in Marx's theory

jones/bhandari (djones@uclink.berkeley.edu)
Thu, 28 Sep 1995 10:41:01 -0700

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In a recent post about environmentalism, Tony sketched Marx's treatment(s)
of technical change:

> In volume I it is appropriate to consider technical change that can be used
>by capital as a weapon to break strikes and speed-up the labor process;
>in Volume II it is appropriate to consider technologies that increase
>the rate of turnover of capital investments, in Volume III it is
>appropriate to consider technologies that lower constant capital costs,
>selling costs, and so on.

After the transition from manufacture to machino-facture, capital is now
subject to the most important tendency--upward pressure on the organic
composition of capital.

While as Adam Smith argued sufficient market demand is necessary to
develop the division of labor and increase productivity, fully developed
capitalism is forced by the inner process of production to expand the world
market upon which it was founded.

While a rising organic composition enables labor to be much more
productive of use values, unit values are dropping as a result, and
capital is thus forced to spread diminishing unit values over a great mass
of use values. In other words, the turnover period of capital must be
decreased in order to realize a sufficient mass of surplus value-- even
aside from how rapid turnover is also required to avoid ruination by the
revolutions in value during capital's circuit from which Marx abstracts at
times in the course of his argument.

The advertising industry has also had to develop certain techniques in
order to stimulate desire for more and more commodities and to attempt to
differentiate for the consumer virtually identical ones. These are real
developments in technique which Marx did not analyze of course, but perhaps
we will want to take them up a later point.

So technical change enabling the acceleration of turnover is driven--indeed
necessitated-- by technical change in production, by upward pressure on the
organic composition of capital.

This drive towards mass production and realization, as enabled by continual
technical change, has obvious environmental implications. And advertising
has had another set of impacts which we may want to analyze.

Interestingly, though Marx is of course concerned with the health effects
on the worker, he also attributes to capital, driven by the falling profit
rate, the technological development of waste management as an economy in
the use of constant capital. Marx emphasizes this in Chapter Five of
Volume III: "Economies in the Use of Constant Capital."
To what extent is capital forced to become environmentalist?!

By the way, there is an important treatment of "Marx as a student of
Technology" by the neo-Schumpeterian economist Nathan Rosenberg in his
*Inside the Black Box: Technology and Economics*. Cambridge University
Press. 1982.

Rosenberg discusses several topics: how Marx's overall sociological
analysis of the transition from feudalism shows that he was not a
technological determinist; the centrality of the actual transformation in
the technical conditions of production from manufacture to machino-facture
to Marx's analysis of capital; and the great but ignored importance of the
capital goods industry in Marx's theory.

I think that Rosenberg's review is as important for what it brings to
attention as for what it ignores. For example, Rosenberg does not dwell
much on the impact on the worker from the transition from manufacture to
machino-facture; nor does he present Marx's theory in such a way that it
could explain contemporary developments in such fields as genetic
engineering. But can it? That is a question which I hope we take up

Rakesh Bhandari