SUBJECTIVITY, HEGEL'S ABSOLUTE, SELF-EXPANDING CAPITAL

Paul Cockshott wpc at clyder.gn.apc.org
Sun Jul 23 23:04:04 MDT 1995


Rakesh
------


What strikes me as interesting is a comparison of the conceptualization
of
capital as self-expanding value (Albritton, Arthur, Postone among others)
with the Schumpeterian understanding of capital as creative destruction:

Paul
----
This Hegelian treatment of capital in the abstract can lead to very
superficial and misleading analyses at the level of the social
formation.

Marx analyses the circuits of capital at the level of the individual
organisms of capitalist production - capitalists, firms or whatever
concrete form the subject of right assumes. What is distinctive about
these organisms is that they perpetuate themselves exclusively by the
purchase and sale of commodities for money. It is this requirement of
reproduction of the individual organisms or subjects of right that
enforces the need to at least preserve and preferably expand the
money value of their assets.

It is invalid to apply the schematic abstraction of this analysis
m-c-m' to the level of society as a whole, and thus to posit an
abstract 'Capital' that has the same requirement to self expand.
Once one starts to analyse both the conditions of production and
the conditions of aggregate demand at the level of social reproduction,
an analysis started by Marx in vol II but not brought to maturity
until the work of Kalecki in the '30s, one sees that there is
no similar necessity for self expansion of value at the aggregate
social level. Indeed, it is equally possible for there to be a
net contraction of value year on year.

When one looks at the historical evidence for accumulation,
even in such a classical period as Victorian Britain,
what is at first surprising is the extent to which simple
rather than expanded reproduction was the better approximation
to reality. Consider for example the trade cycle 1881 to 1890,

Year    % profit unproductively consumed     % accumulated
1881    96.2                                    3.8
1882    95.4                                    4.6
1883    93                                      7
1884    95                                      5
1885    98.8                                    1.2
1886    101.5                                  -1.5
1887    102                                    -2
1888    100                                     0
1889    98.5                                    1.5
1890    98                                      2

This is the typical form of a 19th century trade cycle, not
an exceptional one.

Self expansion of social capital is not something to be assumed,
it is something whose conditions of possibility have to be explained.


Rakesh
------
It seems to me that it is conceivable that in the absence of capitalists,
life may be still dominated by the results of value-determined
production.
So if we are to jump ahead (wrongly I believe) to the relevance of  this
attempt to theorize capital as self-expanding value, what is at stake is
whether state ownership in itself eliminates the value-determination of
production and the reification therefrom.

Paul
----
State ownership by itself tells you little about the concrete property
relations, mechanism of surplus extraction and form of reproduction that
pertains in a society. Without being more specific about what one means
by state ownership or 'value-determination of production', one can not
get very far.

Consider the following three forms of state ownership:

1. All industries are state owned, but within these industries the
   individual enterprises produce commodities for the market, must
   reproduce themselves from the proceeds of commodity sales, are
   free to buy and sell commodities at contractual prices that they
   negotiate, and are able to retain a substantial percentage of all
   profits.

   This order of things could accurately be called state capitalism in
   that the only change from private capitalism is who is the
   beneficial owner of the enterprises. Under these circumstances
   the individual enterprise is under the same constraint to
   expand its capital as under private capitalism. At the same time
   the contradictions in the circulation process that make this
   problematic for the economy as a whole, persist.

2. All industries state owned, the enterprises produce to plan targets,
   and depend on plan allocations for most of their inputs. The products
   are formally sold, money wages are paid, but at the same time almost
   the entirety of any profit is appropriated by the state whilst losses
   are made up using soft credits from the state bank.

   Under these circumstances, there is no compulsion on the enterprise
   to expand or even preserve the value of money expended to finance
   production. The constraints on reproduction are now the planned
   allocation of inputs and the plan targets of output. At the same time
   the enterprise still appears to be a subject of right, with a bank
   account making profits or losses. There exists a contradiction between
   the formal property relations and the actual reproduction relations.

3. All industry state owned, the factories no longer sell their output
   it is directly transfered to the users or retail system without the
   unit of production being credited for it. Allocation of inputs and
   outputs all specified in natura by the planning agency. Units of
   production pay no wages, instead the workers directly credited by the
   state with labour tokens for work done.

   In this case as with the second, there is no compulsion on the
   unit of production to expand value, but it is still necessary for
   value in the sense of abstract social labour to enter into the
   economic calculus of the unit of production. Minimum cost alternatives
   must still be chosen. However it is now possible for this to
   be done by direct labour time calculations. Now in a sense
   value-determination of production persists, since labour time is
   value, but it does so directly without being expressed in
   monetary form.


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