Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 5 October 2011

A Snake Eating Its Tail - The Absurdity of Capitalist Accumulation

Perhaps the most important message that we are seeking to convey on this site is that capitalism is a social system whereby the reproduction of society (what has now become a society that mirrors the essential character of capitalism, which is why we call it "the society of capital") is achieved by the coercion of the vast majority of the working population "to sell", to alienate their living labour or living activity to the capitalists in exchange for the product of that living activity - the goods and services produced by workers- which is "dead objectified labour" paid in the form of "money-wages" that are always kept low enough for workers to be barely able to reproduce themselves and their families without further alienating their living activity to capitalists. Workers must be placed in a condition of potential and immediate poverty: as Obama said recently in a speech, nost American workers are only one illness away from utter destitution. There is no social solidarity, no "community", in the society of capital: it is "each one for himself and the devil take the hindmost".

This complete "lack of solidarity" is evident in the very notion of a "wage" which is supposed to reward each worker "separately" from all others for her or his "proportionate contribution" to the social product. In other words, capitalism not only separates workers from the means of production and therefore reduces them to absolute poverty, but it also represents or mystifies the living activity of workers as if it could be "separated" from the living activity of other workers (!) when we know that in fact there is no such thing as one individual's "labour" or "division of labour" but there is instead what we have called here "the division of social labour". Differenly put, and to illustrate, our labour and productive processes have become so complex and interconnected that it is more than impossible - it is totally insane! - to try to work out what the "value" of each individual labour is, because there is no such thing! And that is why capital needs "money" to mystify this unity of the labour process - the division of what is "social labour" - to divide it into "individual labours" that it rewards or "pays" with individual wages which represent a monetary claim on the totality of the "goods and services" produced by social labour.

Capital itself brings about the most stupendous "concentration of workers" for it to be able to accumulate its command over increasing numbers of workers, over living labour. And the antagonism of workers together with the need of separate capitals to flow to areas of greater profitability bring about the further "concentration of capitals". The present crisis of the European Union is an excellent - perhaps the best and most important - example of this process occurring right before our eyes. But the problem for capital is that this very process of "concentration" (of workers and capitals) under capitalism only serves to undermine the command of capital over living labour because the evident and growing "interdependence of the labour and production process" means that it is increasingly difficult for capital to mystify the process of production as a series of "individual labours" and "individual capitals" that must conduct themselves under the process of "competition" and "reward according to productivity or competitivity". Events in the European Union in particular are exposing this spectacular implosion of the mystique of capital by making it limpidly and devastatingly clear that - as we saw in the Bernanke speech and as Martin Wolf re-asserts in the link below - the real problem at the base of the tottering capitalist pyramid is not the "absolute" competitivity of the capitalist systems of individual European nation-states or regions. Instead, the real problem lies in the "imbalances" that arise between regions and the "monetary unit" or "currency" used to denote the level of antagonism between bourgeois elites, on one side, and living labour on the other!

What Germans and French capitalists are saying is that Greek and Italian workers should be more "competitive" for their nation-states to get out of their indebtedness. But we know all too well that if they did so, then those very bourgeoisies that boast and brag about their "greater competitivity" would actually become less competitive themselves and would then seek every means to regain their "competitive advantage" over those nation-states and their workers! In effect, German and French bourgeoisies were quite happy to extend their profit-making investments over the European periphery until they discovered that these "profits" meant absolutely "nothing" because the level of command over living labour that they could secure in those "countries" had become incompatible and inconsistent with their remaining independent political units or nation-states! At this stage, the only solution would be for Greece and Italy (for instance) to declare bankruptcy and sell their "assets" - their national territories and natural and human resources! - to the capitalist elites of Germany and France!! The sheer absurdity of this notion - which has actually surfaced with the suggestion that Greece sell some of its islands to pay for its debts! - ought to suffice to reveal to every eye the sheer brutality of a capitalist social system founded on the accumulation of command over living labour!!

(This is the Wolf link To be continued.

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