Abstracts from Grundrisse: Marx on Money and Capital

Abstracts From Grundrisse: Marx on Money and Capital

Eddie J. Girdner

                                              Izmir University


Karl Marx: Grundrisse, Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. Trans. Martin Nicolaus. Penguin Books, London, l973.

  Grundrisse, Marx’s notes for his great work, Capital, was written during l857-58. It remained unpublished until l953. Written in seven notebooks, it consists of just two chapters, the chapter on money and the chapter on capital. In my view it is a great and brilliant book and highly enlightening even today. It is useful to make the effort to read it, whether one is interested in going on to read Capital, the first volume published in l867, or in terms of general knowledge of a critique of capitalism and political economy. Below are presented some of the more pithy abstracts from the pen of Marx during this period.

From the Chapter on Money (First Chapter),  Notebook I

“One form of wage labour may correct the abuses of another, but no form of wage labour can correct the abuse of wage labour itself.” (p. 123)

“The impact of war is self-evident, since economically it is exactly the same as if the nation were to drop a part of its capital into the ocean.” (p. 128)

“To be further developed, the influence of the transformation of all relations into money relations: taxes in kind into money taxes, rent in kind into money rent, military service into mercenary troops, all personal services in general into money services, of patriarchal, slave, serf, and guild labour into pure wage labour.” (p. 146)

“On the other side, the power which each individual exercises over the activity of others or over social wealth exists in him as the owner of exchange values, of money. The individual carries his social power, as well as his bond with society, in his pocket.” (p. 157)

“…money is the general form of wealth… Money is therefore the god among commodities… From its servile role, in which it appears as mere medium of circulation, it suddenly changes into the lord and god of the world of commodities. It represents the divine existence of commodities, while they represent its earthly form.” (p. 221)

“Money gives… a general power over society, over the whole world of gratification, labours, etc.” (p. 222)

“Money is therefore not only an object, but it is the object of greed… Money is therefore not only the object but also the fountainhead of greed.” (p. 222)

“The mania for possessions is possible without money; but greed itself is the product of a definite social development, not natural, as opposed to historical.” (p. 222)

“Monetary greed, or mania for wealth, necessarily brings with it the decline and fall of the ancient communities. Hence it is the antithesis of them. It is itself the community, and can tolerate none other standing above it.” (p. 229)

From The Chapter on Capital:

What “political economy attempts to evade’’ about money “… is that a social relation, a definite relation between individuals, here appears as a metal, a stone, as a purely physical, external thing which can be found, as such, in nature and which is indistinguishable in form from its natural existence.” (p. 239)

Before money becomes capital the circulation of money and commodities is based upon “freedom.”

“Equality and freedom are thus not only respected in exchange based on exchange values but, also, the exchange of exchange values is the productive real basis of all equality and freedom.” (p. 245)

But this is just the surface process, the appearance. When money has been transformed into capital, the processes which go on beneath the surface are the very opposite of freedom.

“In present bourgeois society as a whole, this positing of prices and their bourgeois as a whole, this positing of prices and their circulation etc., appears as the surface process, beneath which, however, in the depths, entirely different processes go on, in which this apparent individual equality and liberty disappear.” (p. 247)

It turns out that this “equality and freedom” proves to be “inequality and unfreedom” once money develops into capital. (pp. 248-249)

The individual is “entirely determined by society.” (p. 248)

First, the worker “has an existence only as a producer of exchange value…” (p. 248)

This means that … “the whole negation of his natural existence is already implied…” So “he is therefore entirely determined by society.” (p. 248)

Marx replies to the French socialists (including Proudhon) … “who want to depict socialism as the realization of the ideals of bourgeois society articulated by the French Revolution.”

They want to demonstrate that exchange and exchange value are “a system of universal freedom and equality, but that they have been perverted by money, capital, etc.” (p. 248)

Marx would reply:

“The proper reply to them is: that exchange value or, more precisely, the money system is in fact the system of equality and freedom, and that the disturbances which they encounter in the further development of the system are disturbances inherent in it, are merely the realization of equality and freedom, which prove to be inequality and unfreedom.” (pp. 248-249)

About the transformation from money to capital:

“The immortality which money strove to achieve by setting itself negatively against circulation, by withdrawing from it, is achieved by capital, which preserves itself precisely by abandoning itself to circulation.” (p. 261)

“Money (as returned to itself from circulation), as capital, has lost its rigidity, and from a tangible thing has become a process.” (p. 263)

“The labour which stands opposite capital is alien labour, and the capital which stands opposite labour is alien capital.” (p. 266)

On Capital and Labour:

“Labour is the yeast thrown into it, which starts it fermenting.” (p. 298)

“Therefore, labour does not exist as a use value for the worker: for him it is therefore not a power productive of wealth [and] not a means or the activity of gaining wealth.” (p. 305)

“It is clear, therefore, that the worker cannot become rich in this exchange, since, in exchange for his labour capacity as a fixed, available magnitude, he surrenders its creative power, like Esau his birthright for a mess of pottage.” (p. 307)

“Thus the productivity of his labour, his labour in general, in so far as it is not a capacity but a motion, real labour, comes to confront the worker as an alien power; capital, inversely, realizes itself through the appropriation of alien labour.” (p. 307)

“Labour itself is productive only if absorbed into capital, where capital forms the basis of production, and where the capitalist is therefore in command of production.” (p. 308)

It gets worse as time goes along.

“Thus the more developed capital already is, the more surplus labour it has created, the more terribly must it develop the productive force in order to realize itself in only smaller proportion, i.e., to add surplus value…” (p. 340)

Some background here.

“Labour is the living form-giving fire…” (p. 361)

“We see therefore that the capitalist, by means of the exchange process with the worker… obtains two things free of charge, first the surplus labour which increases the value of his capital; but at the same time, secondly, the quality of living labour which maintains the previous labour materialized in the component parts of capital and thus preserves the previously existing value of capital.” (p. 365)

Notebook IV:

“An increase in the productivity of labour means nothing more than that the same capital creates the same value with less labour, or that less labour creates the same product with more capital.” (p. 388)

“With the development of the forces of production, necessary labour time decreases and surplus labour time thereby increases.” (p. 397)

Capital must exploit labour to the maximum extent possible.

“It is a law of capital … to create surplus labour…” (p. 399)

“It is therefore equally a tendency of capital to increase the laboring population, as well as constantly to posit a part of it as surplus population-population which is useless until such time as capital can utilize it.” (p. 399)

“…[t]he production of workers becomes cheaper, more workers can be produced in the same time, in proportion as necessary labour time becomes smaller or the time required for the production of living labour capacity becomes relatively smaller.” (p. 400)

“The increase of population itself [is] the chief means for reducing the necessary part" [of the working day.] (p. 400-401)

“Here already lie, then, all the contradictions which modern population theory expresses as such, but does not grasp.” (p. 401)

Footnote on Page 401: Because of the increasing population, capital creates “minus-labour”, that is, relative idleness. That is, paupers, flunkeys, lickspittles, etc., those who live from surplus value but are not productive workers.

“… [T]he creation of surplus labour on the one side corresponds to the creation of minus-labour, relative idleness (or not-productive labour at best), on the other.” (p. 401)

“The tendency to create the world market is directly given in the concept of capital itself.” (p. 408)

New consumption must be produced and expanded which also involves the objectification and destruction of all of nature.

“First quantitative expansion of existing consumption ; secondly: creation of new needs by propagating existing ones in a wide circle; thirdly: production of new needs and discovery and creation of new use values.” (p. 408)

“Hence exploration of all nature in order to discover new, useful qualities in things; universal exchange of the products of all alien climates and lands; new (artificial) preparation of natural objects, by which they are given new use values.” (p. 409)

“For the first time, nature becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognized as a power for itself; and the theoretical discovery of autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subjugate it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a means of production.” (p. 410)

“In accord with this tendency, capital drives beyond national barriers and prejudices as much as beyond nature worship, as well as well as all traditional, confined, complacent, encrusted satisfactions of present needs, and reproductions of old ways of life. It is destructive towards all of this, and constantly revolutionizes it, tearing down all barriers which hem in the development of the forces of production, the expansion of needs, the all sided development of production, and the exploitation and exchange of natural and mental forces.” (p. 410)

“On the other side, Ricardo and his entire school never understood the really modern crises, in which this contradiction of capital discharges itself in great thunderstorms which increasingly threaten it as the foundation of society and of production itself.” (p. 411)

About supply and demand and overproduction, Marx says that the commodities produced have to enter circulation and be transformed into money.

“…[T]hat production is not identical with realization , i.e. that it is overproduction, or, what is the same, that it is production which cannot be transformed into money, into value; production which does not pass the test of circulation.” (p. 412)

Production becomes a barrier to capital and capital becomes a barrier to production.

“…[T]he higher the development of capital, the more it appears as barrier to production-hence also to consumption.” (p. 416)

“To each capitalist, the total mass of all workers, with the exception of his own workers, appear not as workers, but as consumers, possessors of exchange values (wages), money, which they exchange for his commodity.” (p. 419)

“…[C]apital forces the workers beyond necessary labour to surplus labour. Only in this way does it realize itself, and create surplus value.” (p. 421)

The worker not only produces alien wealth and his own poverty, but endows alienated wealth with its soul and enables it to reproduce itself.

“He has produced not only the alien wealth and his own poverty, but also the relation of this wealth as independent, self-sufficient wealth, relative to himself as the poverty which this wealth consumes, and from which wealth thereby draws new vital spirits into itself, and realizes itself anew.” (p. 453)

“The product of labour appears as alien property, as a mode of existence confronting living labour as independent, as value in its being for itself; the product of labour, objectified labour, has been endowed by living labour with a soul of its own, and establishes itself opposite living labour as an alien power: both these situations are themselves the product of labour.” (pp. 453-454)            

“It here becomes evident that labour itself progressively extends and gives an even wider and fuller existence to the objective world of wealth as a power alien to labour, so that relative to the values created or to the real conditions of value creation, the penurious subjectivity of living labour capacity forms an ever more glaring contrast.” (p. 455)

“The greater the extent to which labour objectifies itself, the greater becomes the objective world of values, which stands opposite it as alien property. With the creation of surplus capital, labour places itself under the compulsion to create yet further surplus capital, etc. etc.” (p. 455)

“We see that, by a peculiar logic , the right of property undergoes a dialectical inversion, so that on the side of capital it becomes the right to an alien product, or the right to property over alien labour, the right to appropriate alien labour without an equivalent, and, on the other side of labour capacity, it becomes the duty to relate to one’s own labour or to one’s own product as to alien property.” (p. 458)   

“The right of property is inverted, to become, on the one side, the right to appropriate alien labour, and, on the other, the duty of respecting the product of one’s own labour, and one’s own labour itself, as values belonging to others.” (p. 458)

This is, however, not “exchange” or is a “mere semblance” of exchange. Everything in the old exchange of equivalence is destroyed. “Exchange has thus dropped away entirely.” [under the relations of capital] (p. 458)

Marx expresses this as follows:

“The exchange of equivalents, however, which appeared as the original operation, an operation to which the right of property gave legal expression, has become turned around in such a way that the exchange by one side is now only illusory, since the part of capital, which is exchanged for living labour, appropriated without equivalent, and secondly, has to be replaced with a surplus by living labour capacity, is thus in fact not consigned away, but merely changed from one form into another… The relation of exchange has thus dropped away entirely, or is a mere semblance.” (p. 458)

Then the analysis gets even richer.

“Finally, the result of the process of production and realization is, above all, the reproduction and new production of the relation of capital and labour itself, of capitalist and worker. This social relation, production relation, appears in fact as an even more important result of the process than its material results. And more particularly, within this process the worker produces himself as labour capacity, as well as capital confronting him, while at the same time the capitalist produces himself as capital as well as the living labour capacity confronting him. Each reproduces itself, by reproducing its other, its negation. The capitalist produces labour as alien; labour produces the product as alien. The capitalist produces the worker, and the worker the capitalist, etc. ” (p. 458)

The bourgeois economists are not willing to face these facts. So they try to legitimize the process. For them, the capitalist still appropriates as “not-capitalist.”

“These attempts at apologetics demonstrate a guilty conscience, as well as the inability to bring the mode of appropriation of capital into harmony with the general laws of property proclaimed by capitalist society itself.” (p. 460)

The production process violates the laws of property proclaimed by capitalist society, against the property of the worker, that is, his labour power. And

“…[L]abour capacity’s own labour is as alien to it…” (p. 462)

This results in a very long sentence, which is a great sentence, really, and brings in the element of consciousness of exploitation.

“…which is why the product then appears to it as a combination of alien material, alien instrument and alien labour-as alien property, and why, after production, it has become poorer by the life forces expended, but otherwise begins the drudgery anew, existing as a mere subjective labour capacity separated from the conditions of its life. The recognition of the products as its own, and the judgment that its separation from the conditions of its realization is improper-forcibly imposed- is an enormous [advance in] awareness, itself the product of the mode of production resting on capital, and as much the knell to its doom as, with the slave’s awareness that he cannot be the property of another, with his consciousness of himself as a person, the existence of slavery becomes a merely artificial, vegetative existence, and ceases to be able to prevail as the basis of production.” (p. 463)         

 This is unnatural.

Eating the worker: Capital is the true community. In the same way, today the true politics is capital. Capital calls the shots in bourgeois politics.

“In bourgeois society, the worker, e.g. stands there purely without objectivity, subjectively; but the thing which stands opposite him has now become the true community, which he tries to make a meal of, and which makes a meal of him.” (p. 496)

The natural conditions of production have been dissolved as a historical process.

“…[T]he relations of labour to capital, or to the objective conditions of labour as capital, presupposes a process of history which dissolves the various forms in which the worker is a proprietor, or in which the proprietor works. Thus above all (1) dissolution of the relation to the earth-land and soil-as natural condition of production-to which he relates as to his own inorganic being; the workshop of his forces, and the domain of his will.” (p. 498)

Capitalism stockpiles workers.

“Capital proper does nothing but bring together the mass of hands and instruments which it finds on hand. It agglomerates them under its command. That is its real stockpiling; the stockpiling of workers…” (p, 508)

“The production of capitalists and wage labourers is thus a chief  product of capital’s realization process.” (p. 512)

On Privatization: The true test of the capitalist form of society.

“The separation of public works from the state, and their migration into the domain of the works undertaken by capital itself, indicates the degree to which the real community has constituted itself in the form of capital.” (p. 531)










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