Quotes and Engels
John R. Ernst
ernst at pipeline.com
Thu Nov 23 23:01:15 MST 1995
1. I can appreciate your concern about finding specific
passages in CAPITAL. You use a Progress Edition which is
paginated differently than my International edition. So
let's do some citing and explaining. In Chapter VI of
Book III of CAPITAL (Paragraph 9 of the Chapter and the
first Section), Marx states:
"Further, the quantity and value of the employed machinery
grows with the development of labour productivity but not
in the same proportion as this productivity, i.e., not in
the same proportion in which this machinery increases out-
Note that Marx seems quite comfortable in speaking of not
only the growth of productivity but also the growth of
fixed capital (machinery) in material terms. Also note
that the easiest way to interpret Marx's comparison of
the growth in the quantity of machinery to productivity
form this sentence is that the growth in machinery is not
as great as that of output. But, as I am sure you would
point out, it might be a good idea to look at the values.
With the idea, that machinery (in value terms is growing
faster than output) one would expect that if the values
of the raw materials are stable, then the amount of
depreciation for the total output or for some fraction
thereof would increase. Let's see what Marx says:
"The value of raw material, therefore, forms an ever-growing
component of the value of the commodity-product in proportion
to the development of the productivity of labour, not only
because it passes wholly into this latter value, but also
because in every aliquot part of the aggregate product the
portion representing depreciation of machinery and the portion
formed by the newly added labour--both continually decrease."
For the standard interpretation of Marx's notion of accumulation
in which the technical composition of capital increases
faster than productivity, this passage is problematic. It does
not fit. Prior to moving to the next passage of Marx for which
you asked an explanation, let's consider another problem with
that standard interpretation.
2. Does the standard notion of accumulation led us into
further difficulty as we attempt interpret Marx?
That is, it is basically Dobb's idea of the accumulation
process in which the technical composition increases
faster than productivity. Increasing real wages
bring about the incentive for capitalists to
mechanize in this fashion. But what happens when real
wages fall? Do capitalists switch back to the old
techniques of the past? If some of us were to
agree to work for the bare minimum, would pin
manufacturers reintroduce the techniques Smith
himself described? Would fields be plowed by hand
plows? Would air travel give way to trains and
3. Now to the last quote. In your post, you refer
to one of mine concerning Engels. I gave a fairly
specific reference -- Book III, Sec. 4 of CAPITAL.
Check it out. The first two paragraphs are written
by Marx. The next five by Engels. Let's look at
Marx's words together :
"While the circulating part of constant capital, such
as raw materials, etc. continually increases its mass
in proportion to the productivity of labour, this is
not the case with fixed capital, such as buildings,
machinery, and lighting and heating facilities, etc."
Note, again, Marx seems comfortable with idea of
comparing masses. Note as well that he views the
growth of machinery in relation to productivity in the
same way as he sees buildings growing relative to
productivity. Surely, no one would not maintain that to
increase productivity, say, ten-fold; one would need
more than ten times as many buildings. Surely, in
there is room for economies of scale with technical
change. Let's continue with our reading.
"Although in absolute terms a machine becomes dearer with
the growth of its bodily mass, it becomes relatively
cheaper. If five labourers produce ten times as much of
a commodity as before, this does not increase the outlay
for fixed capital ten-fold; although the value of this
part of constant capital increases with the development
of productiveness, it does not by any means increase in
the same proportion."
Let me give you an example of what Marx is talking about.
Let's say a capitalist owns a folding machine with which
one worker can fold one hundred sheets in one hour. The
machine costs $350. Now for $3500 one can buy a machine
that folds ten thousand sheets in one hour. An investment
of 1000% relative to the initial investment yields an
increase in productivity of 10,000%. In terms of mass
the increase is less than 1000%, say, from 50 lbs. to
750 lbs., 1500%.
4. Engels. Let's recall again that for Marx in both
of the above citations, if the price of the raw materials
were to remain the same before and after the investment in
the new technique, the portion of the total product that
represents the depreciation of machinery, buildings, etc.
decreases. What does Engels say?
"...It is most characteristic of rising labour productivity
that the fixed part of constant capital is strongly augmented,
and with it that portion of its value which is transferred by
wear and tear to the commodities."
This is, put simply, the opposite of the position Marx takes.
I see no reason to condemn Engels as person for this, but I
also see no reason to twist things so that there is no
difference between Marx and Engels on this issue. To be sure,
this may mean that we need to look more carefully at what
Engels does in CAPITAL in the name of Marx. But, from all
I have heard, I would praise anyone who was able to finish
editing the last two books of CAPITAL given the state they
were left in by Marx.
John R. Ernst
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