Composition of capital

Tom Condit tomcondit at igc.apc.org
Sun Nov 26 05:23:39 MST 1995


I've been following the exchange on value, etc., between John
Ernst, Jim Miller and Juan Inigo with great interest (especially
Jim's recent "long post"), although time constraints and lack of
patience for reading things on computer screens have forced me to
just skim large portions with the hope of "getting back to it
later."  Since this hope applies to posts on this topic dating
back to last March, I somehow think that it's not going to
happen.

I do have one concern I'd like addressed, because it may indicate
a serious misunderstanding on my part.  In speaking of the
technical composition of capital, all parties seem to assume that
the term "mass" in this case should be used in a literal physical
sense--i.e., actual tons or kilotons of fixed capital and/or raw
materials.  I have always assumed that Marx's writings on this
point should be treated in a much more metaphorical way, much as
we would speak of the "mass" of liquid capital arrayed against us
without distinguishing between that which has actual mass (gold)
and that which has little or no mass at all (electronic impulses
treated as money).

Here's an example of why I think this distinction is important:

In the days when Big Joe S. ran the "Soviet Union" (which, of
course, had neither soviets nor unions at the time), the central
plan allocated production goals to industries in terms of tons of
output.  The most striking result of this was that Soviet
tractors were the heaviest in the world, since that was the
easiest way to meet the increased goal.  If you treat the
relationship of capital to labor strictly in terms of physical
mass, this made Soviet agriculture the most advanced in the
world.  If, however, you treat it purely in terms of the actual
use-value of the tractors, you get an entirely different result. 
The same would be, I assume, true of capitalist society. That is,
an increase in physical mass of capital is not necessarily the
same as an increase in "social mass" (I'm coining a term here
because I don't know what the real one would be).

I'd appreciate a little feedback on this if it doesn't tangle the
thread.

Tom Condit

"Behind every great fortune is a great crime."
    ---Balzac


Tom Condit
<tomcondit at igc.apc.org>
1801-A Cedar Street
Berkeley, California 94703
510-845-7251


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