General Law of Capitalist Accumularion

glevy at glevy at
Sat Jul 8 22:43:44 MDT 1995

Scott wrote:

  Yes jobs are lost and to
> an even greater extent the relative and absolute impovershment of the
> working class is accelerated as Marx predicted.


I believe that Scott is referring to what Marx called "the general law of
capitalist accumulation" in Volume 1, Chapter 25 of CAPITAL.

Marx wrote:

"The greater the social wealth, the functioning capital, the extent and
energy of its growth, and, therefore, also the absolute mass of the
proletariat and the productiveness of its labour, the greater is the
industrial reserve-army. The same causes which develop the expansive
power of capital, developes also the labour-power at its disposal.  The
relative mass of the industrial reserve-army increases therefore with the
potential energy of wealth.  But the greater this reserve-army in
proportion to the active labour-army, the greater is the mass of a
consolidated surplus-population, whose misery is in inverse ratio to its
toment of labour.  The more extensive, finally, the lazurus-lawyers of
the working-class, and the industrial reserve-army, the greater is
official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of capitalist
accumulation [italicized in original, J.L.].  Like all other laws it is
modified in its working by many circumstances, the analysis of which does
not concern us here."  Marx continues: "The mechanism of capitalist
production and accumulation constantly effects this adjustment.  The
first word of this adaption is the creation of a relative
surplus-population, or industrial reserve army.  Its last word is the
misery of constantly extending strata of the active army of labour, and
the dead weight of pauperism." (Kerr edition, p. 707)

This section of CAPITAL is often cited with reference to the so-called
"immiserization theory" that Marx allegedly developed.  A careful reading
of the above (and Chapter 25) will show, though, that Marx was not making
a "prediction" as many claim and that the law was explained very
conditionally.  Note, for instance, the sentence after he says what the
law states.

Scott wrote that the "relative and absolute impoverishment of the working
class is accelerated as Marx predicted."  A good case could be made for
increasing relative impoverishment, but absolute impoverishment of the
class?  Has the industrial reserve army grown both relatively and
absolutely over time?  I think not.  The size of the industrial reserve
army changes over time alongside changes in the rate of accumulation.
During expansionary periods the size of the IRA diminishes and during the
"slump" the IRA increases, i.e. it changes cyclically with changes in the
business cycle.

Increasing impoverishment can only be supported as a relative trend.
Have wages gone down absolutely over time?  No.  Has pauperism increased
absolutely over time?  No.  The IRA, wages and pauperism all change
cyclically (and in other ways) over time.  It is more useful to consider
Marx's concept here in relation to the overall logical structure of
CAPITAL than to believe it to be a "prediction" of future changes in
unemployment and impoverishment.


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