[OPE-L:3345] RE: accumulation of capital revisited

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 19:16:25 -0700 (PDT)

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Andrew K raises a number of separate issues in [OPE-L:3340] -- which
makes responding more difficult:

> I'll return to that point below. In any case, Jerry's
> argument really reduces to the neoclassical theory of why workers receive
> wages: if they are free to walk off the job, then, under any conditions in
> which work involves disutility, compensation is required in order to induce
> them to work. Note that this really has nothing to do with the substitution
> of dead for living labor, per se, but to *any and all* working conditions
> involving disutility.

I. Class relations, wage-labor and unemployment

No, my argument bears no resemblance to nc theory. The creation of the
working class requires both historically and logically the separation of
producers from ownership and control of the means of production. Capital
(and capitalists) require a class which is dependent on them for means of

Now, what makes workers dependent on capital? In the most fundamental
sense, it is because wage-earners require a wage in order to survive under
capitalism (abstracting from state intervention). There is no reason to
believe that workers would work for free since labor takes the form of
wage-labor under capitalism rather than slavery. Under slavery, labor
would be compelled to work for means of subsistence by force of law, i.e.
slaves are defined as property by slaveowners. Discipline takes the form
of a whip or some other form of direct coercion.

Under capitalism, there is wage-slavery, not slavery. Workers are
dependent on capital for money with which they can purchase means of
subsistence (culturally and socially understood). It is the presence and
threat of unemployment itself that means that capital does not need a
whip. The "whip" is the threat of unemployment.

Having been "freed" from ownership and control of means of production,
workers are now "free" to get a job for capital -- under pain of death.
The freedom and coercion of the marketplace is an essential characteristic
that defines social relations under capitalism. The presence of a positive
rate of unemployment is thus an essential requirement for creating the
conditions under which the reproduction of capitalist social relations can
take place.

> Since both Paul and Jerry want to be very concrete and realistic, let
> me be so as well:

II.(a) Realism and Analysis

My objection to v = 0 was not based on the belief that it is "unrealistic"
(which, of course, it is). Rather, my objection is based on the belief
that this assumption effectively precludes an analysis of capitalist
social relations. It is an assumption which is inconsistent with the study
of the subject under investigation. In any theoretical model of
capitalism, one must *at least* establish a set of assumptions that do not
*preclude* capitalist relations, reproduction, accumulation, etc. This is
not a matter of "realism" -- it is a fundamental methodological principle.

Now, if you want to critique a theory which itself assumes v = 0 using the
same assumption, then I do not object. Yet, from my perspective, that
assumption is totally irrelevant and inappropriate in either an analysis
of the capitalist mode of production or an interpretation of Marx. Quite
frankly, I am amazed at the resistance that you have towards dropping this

> the cost of outfitting the concentration camp with guns, bullets,
> fences, watchtowers, and electricity to juice up the fences; the
> administrative costs of employing slave labor; and the wages, clothing,
> housing, and feeding of prison guards, etc., etc. do not = 0. Nor is any of
> this, even the guards' wages, variable capital. It is all constant capital,
> and some of it is machines (perhaps machine guns), so my point remains
> true: "Machines are used to bring an ahuman, 'objective' discipline to
> the labor process, and the subjection of the worker to this discipline."

III (a). Constant capital?

Let's begin with the following question: why do you consider
supervisory/management costs (e.g. administrative costs, guards salaries)
to be "all constant capital"?

These are deductions from surplus value, are they not?

In the case of state employees, they should be paid for out of state
revenues -- right?

Since we have been talking a lot about the valuation of c, these seem to
be pretty basic questions with far-reaching implications.

> In essence, it is this: to get work out of
> workers, costs of repression must be borne (e.g., supervisors, cameras,
> spies, etc.).

I won't argue this point. Certainly, there are "costs of repression." This
does not mean, though, that these costs are component parts of constant

IV. The Costs of Unemployment

> I mentioned above, in connection with Jerry's critique, that although
> unemployment is a disciplining mechanism, it is costly and dangerous to
> capital. That is because capital must also try to repress the unemployed,
> keep them from rising up. Remember the Los Angeles rebellion? And what has
> been the aftermath? <snip of some good stuff>

>From the standpoint of capital, there are both costs and benefits of

It is certainly true that the presence of unemployment can lead to social
struggles which challenge capital. However, there is certainly nothing
automatic about this process. (btw, the LA rebellion was about matters
that not only included unemployment and poverty in the African-American

On the other hand, there are benefits for capital when there is
unemployment. The most obvious benefit is that the presence of
unemployment exerts a downward pressure on wages and benefits. More
importantly, in the context of this discussion, it makes it easier for
capital to exercise control in the labor process. It certainly does not
mean that supervision is not needed to extract work from workers, but it
places a very powerful weapon indeed in the hands of management. It means
that the threat of firing has a coercive element that wouldn't exist in
the same way if workers knew that if they lost their jobs, they could get
other jobs at the same wage.

This doesn't mean that capital requires *mass* unemployment to discipline
workers effectively. So long as unemployment exists to any degree, it is
seen as a threat by workers.

> Those who think so-called
> "free" labor is an important "feature" of capitalism should note how much
> stuff is being produced by prison labor.

See (I) above.

III (b). Constant capital?

> The prisons, the courts, the cops, the national guard, etc., are constant
> capital.

The courts, the cops, the national guard -- constant capital?

Aren't these expenses all paid for out of state revenues which are either
deductions from profits or wages?

II (b). Realism and Analysis

> I would have a LOT more sympathy with those who want realistic and possible
> models if I heard them talking about such things. I still wouldn't
> agree, but I'd be a lot more sympathetic. This is not a "dig" at
> anyone on the list. As
> Alan, Alejandro, and Alfredo might remember (is Alejandro back on the list?
> is Alfredo still on),

[Alfredo is very much here and is an avid OPE-L fan -- but quiet recently.
Alejandro R -- remember to label your Alejandros -- has had to have his
mail set to postpone while he arranges for another Net account].

> when my one-sector, single-capital refutation of the
> Okishio theorem was subjected to criticism at a conference in Amsterdam in
> 1994, I responded that yes, capitalism requires money and it requires
> competition, but it also requires State repressive power, an
> armaments-producing sector, etc., and that if they can abstract from those
> things, then I can abstract from their "favorite" features.

Ah ... so we return (once again) to "levels of abstraction."

It seems to me that it is consistent both with Marx's methodology and his
plans to first consider capital *before* analyzing the state. It's not a
question of realism -- it's a methodological principle of moving from the
simple and abstract to the complex and concrete methodically in "stages".

Money and competition are more abstract categories (in terms of when they
are *first* introduced) than the armaments-producing sector, etc..

> Why do the
> proponents of "realism" never criticize "models" for lacking a military or
> secret police, etc.? Why do we hear a lot about models needing to have at
> least 2 or 3 sectors, so that exchange and money are incorporated, but not
> about the need to have a sector that produces weapons? Why do we hear a lot
> of talk about v needing to be greater than 0, but not about costs of
> supervision and repression needing to be greater than 0.

See above.

In Solidarity,


PS: sections from Andrew's post cut in order to decrease byte size.