Monday, June 10, 2024

Book proposal: Marx’s Fetters and the Realm of Freedom: a remedial reading -- part 2.1

Der Gefesselte Marx

Karl Marx's preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy contains the best-known description of his theory of history. At some point contradiction between the relations of production and the forces of production become fetters on the latter, ushering in a period of social revolution. The traditional interpretation is that the social revolution will unleash technological advances that enable industrial production to expand by “leaps and bounds,” even as free time for workers also increases. Marx’s description, however, specifically referred to a general conclusion he had reached in the 1840s that “became the guiding principle of my studies.” He did not suggest it was a précis of those subsequent studies. In the Grundrisse, Marx had developed a much more detailed analysis of the fetters capital both posits and overcomes, based on the remarkable premise that “the development of all wealth rests on the creation of disposable time.” In that analysis, it is not a greater quantity of manufactured goods that is fettered by the capitalist relations of production but the emancipation of the social individual.

In the Grundrisse, Marx enumerated what the specifically capitalist fetters were:

These inherent limits have to coincide with the nature of capital, with the essential character of its very concept. These necessary limits are:

(1) Necessary labour as limit on the exchange value of living labour capacity or of the wages of the industrial population;

(2) Surplus value as limit on surplus labour time; and, in regard to relative surplus labour time, as barrier to the development of the forces of production;

(3) What is the same, the transformation into money, exchange value as such, as limit of production; or exchange founded on value, or value founded on exchange, as limit of production.

This is:

(4) again the same as restriction of the production of use values by exchange value; or that real wealth has to take on a specific form distinct from itself, a form not absolutely identical with it, in order to become an object of production at all.

“However, these limits,” Marx added, “come up against the general tendency of capital... to forget and abstract from…” these very same limits! The result is inevitably overproduction, not simply in the sense of an excess inventory but of a generalized industrial overcapacity of both means of production and labour power.

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