16 March 2008

The Secret of Capital Revealed

Monday morning has been “Capital Volume 1” morning for a while on the Communist University. Today’s chapter (6) is the one where Karl Marx pops out the secret of the whole deal – the Buying and Selling of Labour Power. The chapter contains no formulas. The air of good humour that Marx has maintained up to now is still present. He concludes the chapter with a pun. But the “Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta” finishing the previous chapter was fair warning. This is it. This is the heart of the matter. Minus footnotes, it is only 3500 words long (less than a broadsheet newspaper page). Here are some highlights:

“In order to be able to extract value from the consumption of a commodity, our friend, Moneybags, must be so lucky as to find, within the sphere of circulation, in the market, a commodity, whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption, therefore, is itself an embodiment of labour, and, consequently, a creation of value. The possessor of money does find on the market such a special commodity in capacity for labour or labour-power.

“By labour-power or capacity for labour is to be understood the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description.

“…The second essential condition to the owner of money finding labour-power in the market as a commodity is this — that the labourer instead of being in the position to sell commodities in which his labour is incorporated, must be obliged to offer for sale as a commodity that very labour-power, which exists only in his living self.

“…For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power."

The first three paragraphs on page 3 are also crucial, and very surprising at the first reading. And then:

“…Accompanied by Mr. Moneybags and by the possessor of labour-power, we therefore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in view of all men, and follow them both into the hidden abode of production, on whose threshold there stares us in the face ‘No admittance except on business.’ Here we shall see, not only how capital produces, but how capital is produced. We shall at last force the secret of profit making.

“He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but — a hiding.”

Before we finish our study of Capital Volume 1, we will need to be able to answer the following Marx-based riddle: Why is it possible to extract surplus-value from the labour of a man, but not from the labour of a horse?

Also linked is SACP GS Dr Blade Nzimande’s article from yesterday’s Sunday Times, including this:

“The strength of the ANC lies in its broad character, uniting all these social and class forces for the liberation and reconstruction of our country. It is indeed inevitable that movements as broad as the ANC will be characterised by internal contradictions. But not all such contradictions are necessarily unhealthy, as they are often an expression of a dynamic, living movement.”

Click on these links:

Capital Volume 1, C6, Buying and Selling of Labour Power, Marx, 1867 (4595 words)

Elites trying to blackmail ANC, Blade Nzimande, Sunday Times (1177 words)

Events Diary


  1. Where has this Marxist Leninist rhetoric led to anything but extreme poverty and oppression?

    Follow this line and speed up the rush to the bottom, to one more failed African state.

  2. Hi Jeff,

    Actually, Chapter 6 of Capital Volume 1 is an examination of where surplus-value comes from (it arises in the workplace, and not in the trading). Surplus-value is what totals up to the increase in aggregate wealth that Karl Marx noticed was a consequence of capitalism.

    As a matter of fact, there are no communist countries in Africa. They are all more or less capitalist, and dominated by capitalism internationally. In the 50-odd countries, there are only something like 5 communist parties.

    So from my point of view the kind of causal connection that you make between the study of a book first published in 1867 (Capital Volume 1) and what you call "failed African states" is what people call "tenuous". Personally, I can't see it at all.

    On the contrary, if, as is the case, all of these states are capitalist, and in difficulties to a greater or lesser extent, then it would surely help them if they were to study the workings of capitalism, wouldn't it?

    Capital Volume 1 is the most famous and influential book about capitalism, ever.

    I do hope you will stay with us as we go through the remainder of the book over the next 15 weeks or so.

  3. Hi Domzanet,

    I've had an interest in Africa for a long time. To my regret, I've watched so many African countries where things looked very promising collapse: Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Kenya -- the list goes on and on.

    I honestly hope that South Africa makes a success of it.

    It seems to me that in South Africa those who adopt the Marxist-Leninist line want to frame their politics to use as a hammer to smash the "evil" Whites.

    Certainly Robert Mugabe used Marxist-Leninist rhetoric to justify his hatred of Whites which resulted in 25% of the Black population fleeing the country because of the destroyed economy.

    Domzanet, you must admit, Marxist-Leninism does not have a good track record in: Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Viet Nam, Laos, Ethiopia and other African countries. In South Africa today, those that adopt the mantle and rhetoric of M-L tend to use it to express their anger, hatred, racism (against Whites) etc. This is not going to bring prosperity to this wonderful country!

  4. As Lenin said (quoted on the CU the other day) “…there is no such thing as abstract truth, truth is always concrete."

    This also means that Marxism-Leninism, which is an abstraction, is of no use as such. The concrete study of real situations, past and present, in their correct historical conjuncture, is useful.

    All the African countries have their distinct history. In that sense you cannot generalise.

    But what they have in common is that they exist in an Imperialist world. Kwame Nkrumah understood this, among many others.

  5. As Lenin said (quoted on the CU the other day) “…there is no such thing as abstract truth, truth is always concrete."

    I hope the policy of driving out White South African farmers, as expressed by the policy of Lulama Xingwana (Minister of Land and Agriculture) is not too concrete.

    (These are the best farmers in the world and to replace them with inexperienced subsistence farmers will bring high food prices and hunger to SA.)

    I hope the unwillingness of those who wear the mantle of M-L in South Africa to protest the murder of 2,900 White farmers (and many more wounded), often gratuitously and bizarrely tortured as well as murdered with little or no goods stolen) is not too concrete.

    I hope the hatred of Whites by many who wear the mantle of M-L is not too concrete, nor the tendency to blame all the problems of SA on the Whites.

    I hope the refusal of M-L adherents to check their unbridled racism towards Whites is not too concrete -- because this hatred is poisonous and will bring poverty and suffering in its wake.

    I hope the racist hatred in the hearts of so many marxist-Leninists that is adding to the blood flowing in SA today is not too concrete.

  6. I hope the expressed intention of the South African Communist Party to nationalize the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, because of a prank video is not too concrete.

    How bizarre is this - there have been endless overt racist murders of Whites by Blacks (who are encouraged, even if implicitly, by the SACP and yet there is a huge issue made out of this admittedly tasteless video). If all M-L is going to do is feed the fires of irrational hatred, do you honestly think prosperity and a successful society is going to come out of that?

  7. Hi Jeff,

    I'm still reading you. Concrete in politics does not have quite the same meaning as in building, although I guess the root in Latin is the same.

    I mean, a long list of grievances is just that: a list. As much as each item speaks at least of pain, yet the situation does not become clearer as the list grows longer. For that to happen, the abstract parts have to be put together (with all possible others) in a complete "equation". That is what we call concrete.

    There is a great book called "The ascent from the abstract to the concrete in Marx's "Capital". I think the author is Ilyenkov. It is on the Internet in the Marxists Internet Archive.

    You are now at a blog shared by people who really do try to do this. I mean they try to "concretise". That also means not rejecting people out of hand.

    You are welcome. Do stay.


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