jones/bhandari djones at
Mon Aug 28 02:51:13 MDT 1995

John asks me about Grossmann's analysis of fixed capital and moral
depreciation.  For this,  one must turn to his "Marx, The Classical
Economists and Dynamics".

I know that I have been kindly advised by both Paul C and Jerry L (my
respect for both  I hope is manifest) to avoid the scholaticism inherent in
extensive quoting of authorities.  But it is not the authority that matters
here; it is what I take to be Grossmann's unsurpassed analysis of the
oft-ignored dialectical reversals characteristic of capital.  I will not
reproduce the many relevant passages from this essay, trusting that people
who are interested in it have been able to get it.  I have also quoted from
it extensively before.

It is ironic that Howard and King have charged Grossmann with ignoring the
concept of relative surplus value; for whatever truth such a criticism
holds about his magnum opus, his theoretical elaboration in this essay of
the only exploitative method adequate to capital's boundless thirst for
surplus value allows him with utter realism to recount how the introduction
of machinery mercilessly enables a higher rate of exploitation and then
analyze the grave problem of the moral depreciation of that machinery which
represents a large capital value before a new innovation devalues it; the
resulting worsening in the conditions of the proletariat through either the
prolongation of the working day or the intensification of work (or both of
course); how the continuing search for relative surplus value drives the
capitalist to increase labor productivity through even greater relative use
of machinery; the consequent growth in the reserve army of labor; and the
on-going compulsion to revolutionize the technology of the labor process,
and therefore the structure of society.

And what is perhaps most important, and too often forgotten, are the
dialectical reversals inherent in capital's motion: that is, how capital
stimulates the development of the most powerful instruments for reducing
labor time which then become the most unfailing means to intensify work;
and how the machinery which was to enlargen relative surplus value begins
to operate in the opposite direction, i.e. towards a fall in the rate of

There has been a lot of discussion of the dialectics of the value-form but
the emphasis here on dialectical reversals also underlines why Marx remains
the most profound critic of capitalism.  Is there any equivalent in
bourgeois theory to Marx's analysis of how things turn into their
opposites?  This is different than saying booms turn into busts because of
the external constraint of limited labor or natural resources.  Marx is
arguing that inherent in capital itself is dialectical reversal. This seems
to be a very important idea to develop.


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