[Marxism] Capitalism without capital – or capital without capitalism?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 13 06:34:48 MST 2017

There is a new book out called Capitalism without capital – the rise of
the intangible economy.  The authors, by Jonathan Haskel of Imperial
College and Stian Westlake of Nesta, are out to emphasise a big change in
the nature of modern capital accumulation – namely that increasingly
investment by large and small companies is not in what are called tangible
assets, machines, factories, offices etc but in ‘intangibles’, research
and development, software, databases, branding and design.  This is where
investment is rising fast relative to investment in material items.

The authors call this capitalism without capital.  But of course, this is
using ‘capital’ in its physicalist sense, not as a mode of production and
social relation, as Marxist theory uses the word.  For Marxist theory what
matters is the exploitive relation between the owners of the means of
production (tangible and intangible) and the producers of value, whether
they are manual or ‘mental’ workers.

As G Carchedi has explained, there is no fundamental distinction between
manual and mental labour in explaining exploitation under capitalism. 
Capitalism cannot be without capital in that sense.

Knowledge is produced by mental labour but this is not ultimately
different from manual labour. Both entail expenditure of human energy. The
human brain, we are told, consumes 20% of all the energy we derive from
nourishment and the development of knowledge in the brain produces
material changes in the nervous system and synaptic changes which can be
measured. Once the material nature of knowledge is established, the
material nature of mental work follows. Productive labour (whether manual
or mental) transforms existing use-values into new use-values (realised in
exchange value). Mental labour is labour transforming mental use values
into new mental use values.  Manual labour consists of objective
transformations of the world outside us; mental labour of transformations
of our perception and knowledge of that world. But both are material.


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