9 March 2008

Marx and Ms Bliksem

[Posted early for Monday]

Chapter 5 of Capital Volume 1 finds Karl Marx at his most relaxed. In Chapter 4 he laid down a simple distinction, practically meaningless in itself. This was the distinction between C-M-C and M-C-M’. In Chapter 5 he takes us for a stroll with these two cousins, finally teasing us yet again by concluding without a resolution of the riddle that he has dangled before us through two chapters.

Marx knows very well that CMC and MCM are formally no more portions of or extracts from a series with no end and no beginning, as …MCMCMCMCMCMCMCMCMCMCMC…. He flaunts the prima facie absurdity of the distinction, asking: “How can this purely formal distinction between these processes change their character as it were by magic?”

He proceeds to state directly that: “The inversion… of the order of succession does not take us outside the sphere of the simple circulation of commodities, and we must rather look, whether there is in this simple circulation anything permitting an expansion of the value that enters into circulation, and, consequently, a creation of surplus-value.”

But now we begin to see what Marx is getting at. He is trying to find out how, in the process of exchange, a real increase can be found. As we shall soon enough discover, he already has the answer but he is content here to have the groundwork of his argument tested against the ideas of others, such as Monsieur Condillac, and Colonel Torrens, as well as “Vulgar-Economy”, and so by degrees to refute “the delusion that surplus-value has its origin in a nominal rise of prices or in the privilege which the seller has of selling too dear.”

Then, Marx historicises the problem: “In the course of our investigation, we shall find that both merchants' capital and interest-bearing capital are derivative forms, and at the same time it will become clear, why these two forms appear in the course of history before the modern standard form of capital,” he says. He insolently proves that: “It is… impossible for capital to be produced by circulation, and it is equally impossible for it to originate apart from circulation. It must have its origin both in circulation and yet not in circulation.”

He finishes the chapter with a whoop and a cheer, like this: “Our friend, Moneybags, who as yet is only an embryo capitalist, must buy his commodities at their value, must sell them at their value, and yet at the end of the process must withdraw more value from circulation than he threw into it at starting. His development into a full-grown capitalist must take place, both within the sphere of circulation and without it. These are the conditions of the problem. Hic Rhodus, hic salta!”.

If there is ever a bricks-and-mortar Communist University in Johannesburg, its motto should be “Hic Rhodus, hic salta!”

Karen Bliksem’s weekly column always helps to raise the spirits. Yesterday she was musing about what would happen if her friend Cde Jacob Zuma should decide to marry a Jewish girl. “Take it from me, Jacob, you'll be praying for a dark, single cell, filled with scorpions, before a week or two has passed,” warns Karen, who is of course a good Jewish girl herself, and rumored to be in a relationship with fellow-journalist Jeremy Gordin.

Ms Bliksem even finds time to mention “Karl Marx's Das Kapital”, alleging that it lies unopened in COSATU House. What can she possibly mean?

The Communist University meets tomorrow (Tuesday) in the not-so-dusty SACP boardroom on the 3rd floor of the same COSATU House, at 17h00.

Click on these links:

Capital Volume 1, C5, Contradictions in General Formula, Marx, 1867 (4978 words)

Boychik, have I got the girl for you, Karen Bliksem, Sindy (1008 words)

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