[OPE-L:2532] Re: Marx and Ricardo

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Tue, 18 Jun 1996 09:07:56 -0700 (PDT)

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A brief reply to Paul C's ope-l 2528.

Paul argues that, under private-property capitalism, "production for
production's sake" does not occur. Production "is not an end in itself
but ... a means to an end, - the appropriation of private profit." I
suggest that Paul is confusing the motives of individual firms with the
driving motive of the capitalist system as such. The latter was what I
was talking about. The former is a superficial form of appearance of
the latter.

To understand this, ask *why* firms desire the most "private" profit (BTW,
what does "private" have to do with anything?). Is it to meet the
consumption needs of the shareholders (or managers, etc.)? Or are they
*forced* by something outside them to seek the highest profit rate in order
to survive and thus to continue to personify capital? I think it is the
latter--firms that fail to plugh back enough profit will go under, just as
much as those that fail to receive it in the first place. So they are
forced to accumulate. But for what reason? To expand consumption? No,
Marx's schema of expanded reproduction show that accumulation occurs through
the increase in production in Department I destined for Department I (Ic
is an increasing share of the value of the total social capital). This is,
precisely, production for production's sake. Consideration of mechanization
makes this more true.

This is why Marx's reference to "Moses and the prophets" refers not only to
"accumulation for the sake of accumulation," but also "production for the
sake of production."

Now, of course, Paul is right that production doesn't rise on a smooth
expontential path. For whatever reasons (and I think reduced expectations
of profit is less significant than Paul does), they often cut back on
production. But, first of all, by cutting back on production they are also
cutting back on profits, so this proves nothing. Second of all, to say that
the motive force of capitalism is production for production's sake is *not*
to say that this motive force is not self-contradictory. Precisely because
the motive is production of *value*, wealth in the *abstract*, not concrete
products for consumption, capitalist production is self-limiting. Capitals
are compelled to raise productivity and to mechanize, but this leads to the
relative decline in new value, from living labor, as against old value,
embodied in means of production (and gold, etc.). And this leads to crises,
as I discussed in my recent reply to Duncan.

Note that if the motive of production were to be the satisfaction of any
limited needs, such as consumption, as was characteristic of pre-capitalist
societies, there would be no compulsion continually to raise productivity,
to expand production, and so forth. It is the production of wealth that
is not limited by its concrete forms, and thus not limited quantitatively,
i.e., the production of abstract wealth for the sake of abstract wealth,
that leads to the ceaselessness of the drive to extract surplus-labor.
And as I noted, the drive to expand production for its own sake (not to
satisfy human needs) and to extract more and more surplus-labor characterized
the "USSR" just as much as it characterizes capitalism in its private-
property form.

Andrew Kliman