[OPE-L:735] On residual Hegelian elements in Capital I Part I

Paul Cockshott (wpc@clyder.gn.apc.org)
Thu, 14 Dec 1995 11:02:40 -0800

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The debate between Zembreka and others on the significance of the
Hegeliansms in the first part of capital has made me wonder how one could
deal with this subject matter in a non-hegelian way. Since we are still
supposed to be concentrating on the first part of capital I want to look
at possible alternative ways of approaching the question of money.

In the book Capital, the idea of the circuits of money and of capital
plays an important role. In both of these circuits c-m-c and m-c-m' value
in a certain sense plays the role of subject. It is therefore tempting to
see the whole of the argument in Capital as an investigation into the
selfdevelopment of capital as a subject. My grasp of Hegel is not sure
enogh for me to say if this view of things is actually hegelian, but
whether or not this be the case, it does suffer from certain drawbacks.
One of them is philosophical, the other is historical.

One problem is that if we see capital as a subject, then the real
material subjects of the system of production are not adequately
represented, or, if represented at all, appear just as manifestations or
instanciations of the ideal subject.

By the real material subjects, I mean abstract legal personalities,
subjects of right. Under capitalist systems of law, some of these legal
sujects correspond to human bodies, others to bodies corporate. It is
these juridical subjects that buy and sell commodities, and, reproduce
themselves in the process. In this reproduction process, they are
reproduced both as proprietors, and as physical processes ( human
metabolims, active oil refineries, ... ).

If one takes the standpoint of the self development of capital as a
subjec, then material subjects like firms tend to be thought of as
'capitas', instanciations of CAPITAL. It is arguable that this way of
looking at things is an idealist inversion.

The second problem with this sort of conceptualisation, it that the
notion of capital as a subject is tied up with the idea of capital being
self expanding value. This is what the formula m-c-m' is all about.
Within the context that Marx presents in Capital I part I, where gold is
money, the formula is realistic. But even as it was written this was
historically obsolete. Commercial transactions were not, in practice,
carried out using gold. Capitalist trade is characteristically carried
out by a balancing of accounts, either as was common in Marx's day,
through the circulation of bills of exchange or through the clearance of

If commerce occurs through cheque clearance, then there is no longer a
circuit of value through the forms m-c-m'. An account with a bank, unlike
a hoard, has no value. It is instead a record of entitlement to value. I
think, therefore, that the use of the circuit m-c-m' by Marx must be seen
as a pedagogic device, presenting what goes on in a simple to understand
but basically anachronistic form.

When somebody becomes steeped in an old litterature, their minds become
fossilised representations of dead social relations. So christians,
livingin modern bourgeois democracies think in categories like christ the
lord, christ the redeemer, which though they originally made sense in a
slave society with the institution of manumission, have no purchase on
the modern world. We Marxists have our thoughts about money shaped by a
prsentation that made intutive sense to workers in Victorian England, to
whom money was gold and silver coin, but which has no correlates in a
world where trade takes place with debit cards.

If, however, one were to switch the focus onto the material subjects and
their conditions of reproduction, then money can appear clearly in the
form in which, I think Smith presents it - as the power to command the
labour of others. A bank balance is social power to command labour. We
woud then focus not on the self evolution of sums of value, but on the
proess by which juridical subjects reproduce their powers of command over

Paul Cockshott