[OPE-L:1733] accumulation and natural conditions

ECUSER (ECBURKE@scifac.indstate.edu)
Wed, 10 Apr 1996 20:03:02 -0700

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Point #7 of Jerry's ruminations on capital accumulation [OPE-L:
1732] isolates the important discussion of natural conditions and
accumulation in Chapter 24, Section 4 of CAPI -- the section entitled
"Circumstances That . . . Determine the Amount of Accumulation".
This discussion is important (IMHO) in showing that in Marx's view
accumulation is dependent on appropriation from nature -- something
which has been oft-denied by ecological critics of Marx. In this
discussion Marx also emphasizes that even with a constant
"productivity of social labour" and "a given degree of exploitation
of labour-power," the "mass of the surplus-value produced" (which
under these conditions depends on "the magnitude of the capital")
still may "acquire a power of expansion" insofar as it can
"incorporate with itself the two primary creators of wealth, labour-
power and the land" (IP edition, pp.604, 608).

I would not say that this is something Marx talked about only `in
passing,' however -- with all due respect to Jerry's ongoing
gargantuan work in instigating/facilitating discussion on all OPE-L
fronts!! Rather, Marx's analysis of accumulation at many points
deals with the role of natural conditions in conditioning the
material forms of capital. This is a basic aspect of the use value --
exchange value contradiction that runs throughout Marx's analysis of
accumulation. Capital can never free itself of use value (wealth --
the fact that capitalism is after all a form of human-material
reproduction albeit a class-exploitative hence contradictory one);
hence it can never free itself from natural conditions (given that
nature and labor always both contribute to use value or wealth
production in Marx's materialist view).

It seems to me that the point about capital's self-expansiveness
resulting in the `incorporation with itself' of natural sources of
wealth on an ever-expanding scale is fundamental for understanding
capitalism as what socio-ecologist Ray Dasmann calls a "biosphere
culture," i.e., one which "spreads its economic support system out
far enough that it can afford to wreck one eco-system, and keep
moving on" as Gary Snyder puts it in his funky little pamphlet THE OLD
WAYS. Paradoxically, it is capitalism's ability to function and
expand despite its devouring/destruction of particular eco-systems
(and of particular depositories of non-renewable resources more
generally) that makes it so destructive of natural conditions. This
contrasts with what Dasmann calls `eco-system cultures' -- "those
whose economic base of support" (to quote Snyder again) "is a natural
region, a watershed, a plant zone . . . within which they have to
make their whole living" and within which they have to sustain
themselves (on pain of more immediate extinction).

Not that there haven't been `biosphere cultures' prior to capitalism;
indeed Snyder traces their origins to "early civilization and the
centralized state". But it may be that by placing the quantitatively
unlimited goal of value expansion in command of socio-material
reproduction, capitalism is `more biospheric' and hence ultimately
more destructive of natural conditions on a global scale than any
prior biosphere culture. So this connects up with the earlier
question of "value and the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of

Paul B.