Jurriaan Bendien (email@example.com)
Sat, 16 Oct 1999 20:01:53 +0100
Jerry asked me on several occasions about "laws of motion", so I thought I
would make a few comments on my view of it. Laws of motion
(bewegungsgesetzen) in Marx's sense refer I think to causal necessities,
necessary connections, or, perhaps more accurately the dynamics (dynamic
principles) of a social system, in this case capitalism. These dynamics
arise out of the specific features of the social system itself, out of the
combination and interaction of its components (its institutional rules).
They allow us to understand a social system as a determinate (determined)
and to some extent predictable system, which reproduces itself and develops
according to a determinate pattern. Although history is obviously
open-ended, this determinacy means that not just anything can happen in the
development of a social system. Some developmental possibilities are ruled
out. Likewise, for example, when the system is in crisis, there is only a
limited number of options (variants) for solving the crisis, and once an
option is chosen, it has determinate consequences for the future
development of the system.
The operation of a "law of motion" may be suspended temporarily or for a
period of time, without however abolishing the law itself. It is the same
thing with e.g. the "law of gravity". Under certain conditions it does not
operate, but we would not say the law stopped to exist or apply.
Furthermore the law may be modified in its effects by specific
circumstances (intervening variables) or the interaction with other laws.
Since this is almost always the case, the laws of motion specified by Marx
are properly speaking only "developmental tendencies". These tendencies
exist and persist despite the fact that they may be modified, temporarily
suspended, or in some way deflected by intervening circumstances (exogenous
factors) or the interaction with other laws.
Certainly, Marx himself never talks about "the laws of motion" of
capitalism. He talks only about "discovering the law" in social phenomena,
i.e. discovering what causally determines social phenomena, the causal
mechanisms involved. Or, he talks about "the law of motion of modern
society". But he does specify several laws in Capital, such as the general
"law" of accumulation and the law of the falling rate of profit. It is
therefore not unreasonable to talk about the laws of motion of capitalism,
as that specific combination of causal necessities and developmental
tendencies which arise out of the nature of the system.
What are these laws then ? I can find at least 12 main endogenous laws of
capitalism in Marx. These laws could be formulated in various ways, but
they refer to the causal dynamics of the system. Together they govern the
"normal" operation of the system, constituting I would say its "internal
1. The law of value (determination of economic value/prices by
production-costs measurable in labour hours).
2. The law of accumulation: the compulsion of capitalists to accumulate
(reinvest) realised profits, under the pressure of competition.
3. The law of the tendency towards constant revolutions in the techniques
of production (permanent pressure to increase labour productivity under
4. The "unquenchable thirst" of capitalists for absolute and relative
surplus-value, or, the law of the tendency towards profit maximisation.
5. The law of the growing concentration and centralisation of capital.
6. The law of the tendency of the organic composition of capital to rise.
7. The law of the tendency of rates of profit to equalise.
7. The law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit.
8. The law of the inevitability of class conflict under capitalism
(including the determination of wages by class struggles and the level of
9. The law of the tendency of the working class to increase numerically,
and the social gap between the wealthy and the poor to grow.
10. The law of the tendency towards growing objective socialisation of
labour as a result of the growth of the system, gradually reducing the
sphere in which blind market laws operate, such that the rule of the law of
value becomes increasingly remote, discontinuous and indirect.
11. The inevitability of recurrent (cyclical) economic crises under
capitalism resulting from endogenous causes.
12. The law of the unavoidable collapse of the capitalism system (its
historically limited nature).
In a purely capitalist society such as described by Uno, these laws would
indeed govern the motion of the system completely, and be the exclusive
determinants of development, but such a society has never existed and will
not exist as far as we know. What is interesting about these laws though is
that in the real world many of them actually imply partly indeterminate
outcomes. In the real world "exogenous (extra-economic) factors"
co-determine the development of the system: real capitalist development is
the result of the interaction between the internal logic of the system and
the socio-political/ geographical environment within which it operates. The
real economic history of capitalism is actually the result of the
interaction between a contradictory combination of capitalist,
semi-capitalist and non-capitalist relations of production and circulation.
Marx himself says, that the same capitalist economic basis (with,
implicitly, the same internal logic) can in different countries or periods
display "endless variations and gradations in its appearance, as the result
of innumerable different empirical circumstances, natural conditions,
racial relations, historical influences acting from the outside etc. " (Cap
3, Penguin, pp. 927-928).
What does this mean in practice ? Take the example of the bourgeois state .
Bourgeois states can have a major effect on the pattern of capitalist
development, e.g. by regulating wages, adjusting the supply of credit and
the burden of taxation, by restricting or encouraging investment, creating
extra jobs, etc. State policies can indeed go counter to the internal logic
of the system. In this sense, state activity intervenes in or mediates in
the operation of the main "laws of motion". However, the state cannot
cancel out these laws of motion and its action radius is therefore limited.
Because, the bourgeois state cannot abolish money capital and profit; it
cannot abolish the operation of market forces, eliminate the law of value,
or force private investors to invest where they don't want to. State
activity reaches its limit precisely when it threatens to undermine the
internal logic of the system, when it tries to eliminate basic
institutional determinants of the system. So we can say the state can have
a "partial autonomy" in its policies from the internal logic of the system,
without cancelling out any laws of motion of capitalism and indeed its
actions remain "overdetermined" by these laws.
For another example, take the longterm evolution in the level of real wages
in a country like New Zealand. If I want to explain that level, I cannot
just look at the value of wage goods and the unemployment level. I have to
look at labour struggles as an extra-economic factor. But furthermore I
have to look at the demographic situation at the beginning of capitalist
development in the country; the economic growth rate in relation to the
growth of the labour supply lacking independent means of subsistence; the
rate of economic growth in relation to the rate of growth in labour
productivity; state regulation; the international migration of labour; the
proportion of gainfully employed women vis-a-vis domestic labour, the
average retirement age and the proportion of the student population, etc.
Some of these factors have a relative independence or are extra-economic
(exogenous), nevertheless I suggest they are "overdetermined" by the
internal logic of the system, comprising at least the 12 laws of motion
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