[OPE-L:1434] Re: Smith Marx and matter and accumulation

Claus Germer (cmgermer@sociais.ufpr.br)
Wed, 6 Oct 1999 18:55:02 -0300

> >Paul Cockshott:
> >
> >
> > > I think we have to be clear what we mean by the accumulation of
> > > I suspect that you identify this with the accumulation of money in
> > > accounts. I would identify it with the accumulation of commodities,
> >including,
> > > gold money but excluding credit money. As such, this accumulation is
> > > always a physical accumulation, though denominated in terms of the
> > > required to produce it.
> >
> >Claus: I understand that you are not talking strictly about Smith's
> >interpretation. In terms of Marx's theory, money being the *abstract
> >of value*, i.e., representing value independent from its natural form,
> >way has been opened for accumulation to proceed in its abstract or
> >form. Thus, the advent of money has liberated the process of
> >of wealth from the need to accumulate it in its varied natural forms.
> >Hence, in capitalism the accumulation of wealth cannot be thought of as
> >restricted by the physical form of the use values produced by capital.

> In the discussions on money that you refer to Marx is assuming that money
> is made of gold or silver. These are very definitely material and have
> labour inputs.

Claus: The fact that money is a commodity doesn't mean that *the
accumulation of value is always a physical accumulation*, and doesn't
contradict my statement that money is the abstract form of value. Being an
abstract form doesn't mean being immaterial, it rather means that
gold-money represents value *in abstraction of particular use-values*. And
you miss the point if you assume that the hoarding of gold-money, in
capitalism, represents accumulation of value. In capitalism you accumulate,
i.e., increase your stock of value, by using it as capital, i.e., as a
means of extracting unpaid labour. More specifically, accumulation refers
to the accumulation of capital, not of simple value. Thus, the hoarding of
gold-money is not a means to accumulate value and cannot be envisaged by a
capitalist as his goal.

> What is at stake here is very important, it is our ability to distinguish

> the real
> material process going on from its ideological representation. Once
> money
> becomes dominant a whole series of fetishistic or illusory relations are
> brought
> into existence. It seems to me that when you write 'the advent of money
> has liberated the process of accumulation
> of wealth from the need to accumulate it in its varied natural forms' you

> are falling
> prey to the speculators fallacy. This consists in confusing value with
> monetary
> price assigned to property titles.

I'm confused with your suggestion of a speculators fallacy in the phrase of
mine that you stressed. I haven't even mentioned fictitious capital. I take
it for granted that you are not suggesting that what capitalists envisage
is to pile up use-values. On the other hand, of course you can say that the
real accumulation of wealth, at the social level, can only be the
accumulation of use-values, but this is true not only for capitalism, but
for every form of society, since use-values are the real wealth. But this
would be a triviality, since it says nothing about any specific society. In
capitalism wealth is accumulated in the form of capital. Hence, in order to
understand how the accumulation of wealth goes in capitalism, we need to
know how capital accumulates, i.e., the laws of motion of capital.

> During periods of stock market boom like the present one in the US it can

> appear
> that wealth is accumulating in step with burgeoning share prices.
> Entrepreneurs who
> float Internet companies become billionaires overnight, but their wealth
> and capital
> are not real. True, their stocks multiplied by the prices of these stocks

> make them
> multimillionaires, and, potentially, the sale of these stocks would
> them to
> buy gold or other assets which have value in the sense of embodied

No objection. You're actually agreeing with what I said in my previous
post: in capitalism the accumulation of wealth means accumulation of value
in its abstract form. As Marx says: money is the universal commodity
because it gives access to any ordinary commodity you want, without having
to store it yourself until the need for it arises. You could even say (as
you do in the next paragraph) that the accumulation of capital in its
productive form, as I stressed it, actually means the accumulation of use
values, since the means of production and of consumption (for the workers)
are use values. However, they are not accumulated for the sake of their use
values, but of them as representatives of value in its abstract or general
expression of wealth.

As for fictitious capital, which you mention, it seems to me that you miss
the point. When we talk about accumulation of capital, this is a meaningful
expression in the theory, and represents the process of increase of wealth
in capitalism, which can only happen as a product of the accumulation of
productive capital. The trade of stocks is of course a redistribution of
existing wealth, which I have not mentioned because I was talking about
increase in the existing wealth.

> But this
> would be only a redistribution of the titles to gold and Internet
> companies. The
> titles to Internet companies do not consititute capital. They represent
> claims on
> capital. Their prices can rise or fall quite independently of changes in
> value, as
> the promoters of the UK internet firm Freeserve found to their cost last

Stocks are actually claims on a part of surplus-value, which is what makes
them appear as if they were real capital and as if they had a
capital-value, which thanks to their earnings can be estimated by
capitalization of the later. Their prices are in this case tantamount to
their fictitious capital-value, hence there is no relation between the two.
Their prices change basically according to the change in both the expected
earnings and the interest rate.

> Bank account entries are similarly not value or wealth but titles to such

> wealth.
> It is one of the properties of the banking system as a whole that it has
> almost
> unlimited ability to create such titles. Such accumulation of titles is
> refered to in
> orthodox economics as the money supply, but no orthodox economist
> in the preparation of national income accounts would be so innocent at to

> include
> the money supply as part of the capital stock of a nation. That capital
> has to take the form of stocks of commodities, either means of production
> for constant capital, or stocks of consumption goods.
I have no reason to disagree with you about this.
> >If it were true that *capital can only accumulate as forms of matter*,
> >there could not be capital in sectors that produce some of the so called
> >services, f.i. teaching in private schools, transportation, etc.
> Private schools require buildings, transportation requires railway tracks
> trucks etc. I dont see anything very spiritual about these entities.

I agree, but now you are correctly talking about accumulation of capital as
productive capital, which is precisely what I was emphasizing in my post.
But you had said something different, as follows:

>Capital can only accumulate as forms of matter, so that unless
> produces transformed matter which persists beyond the moment of its
> performance it can not contribute to accumulation.

If this were true, private schools wouldn't be able to expand their
productive capital, as you now point out, because teaching does not produce
a transformed matter which persists beyond the moment of its performance.
What it produces as capital is unpaid labour in abstract form, i.e., in
form of money, but not to be piled up in form of money, but to be converted
into new capital.

> >Considering that capital is not a thing, but designates the relation
> >between dead labor (i.e. means of production used to extract living
> >and living labor, accumulating capital means accumulating that relation,
> >which occurs within the so called sphere of production, where productive
> >capital resides (i.e. means of production and living labor).
> No you are being imprecise here. Capital accumulation can occur
> without an extension of the capital labour relation, though such
> accumulation causes economic contradictions.

You may be right about imprecision, in the sense that there are several
presuppositions in such general statements. It is necessary to define the
concepts we use. Strictly speaking, to accumulate capital consists of
converting surplus-value into new productive capital. Considering a given
capital, the addition of new capital must represent an addition of both
constant and variable capital and in this sense it expands the
capital-labor relation. If old capital is eliminated, of a value similar to
the new one, we cannot talk of accumulation.

> At an accounting level, an accumulation of capital involves and
> of stocks of commodities evaluated in terms of the labour required
> to produce them. As such there is an accumulation of the currently
> quantity of dead labour.

As a general statement, this is false. If what you think of is stocks of
means of production and of consumption for workers at the aggregate level,
I don't think I disagree.
> Historically speaking the process of capital accumulation has been
> with the extension of the waged population, and thus with the extension
of the
> capital labour relation, but this just one historical phase of capital
> accumulation.
> It occurs in those nations that have either or both of, a rising
population or
> a latent reserve army of labour in the form of peasants. When these
> are no longer met, capital accumulation can continue by raising the
> composition of capital.
> This process enters into conflict with the fixed population base
available for
> exploitation and results in a falling rate of profit.

I'm not sure that it is appropriate to analyse isolated countries, since
capital has been an international phenomenon from the beginning. The
west-european countries, like any other advanced cpaitalist country, have
either imported labour force or exported capital when necessary in order to
attend the needs of their accumulation. Thus, there hasn't really existed a
concrete situation like the one you mention. Even considering advanced
capitalist countries in isolation, I don't think there has ever been a
situation where unemployment has been completely eliminated. It is
difficult to imagine a capitalist system without a reserve army of labor,
and not only composed of peasants.

I will let the other points for another ocasion.


Claus Germer
Departamento de Economia
Universidade Federal do Paraná
Rua Dr. Faivre, 405 - 3º andar
80060-140 Curitiba - Paraná

Tel: (041) 360-5214 - Ufpr
       (041) 254-3415 Res.

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