Quotes and Engels

John R. Ernst ernst at pipeline.com
Thu Nov 23 23:01:15 MST 1995


Dear Jim, 
 
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- 
put." 
 
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  
ships?   
 
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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