26 March 2012

General Introduction to Karl Marx’s Capital, Volumes 2 and 3


Capital Volumes 2 and 3, Part 0

General Introduction to Karl Marx’s Capital, Volumes 2 and 3

The second and third volumes of Karl Marx's Capital will be serialised on the communist University during the second quarter of 2012.

We have first to consider how we will do it. What we are looking for is a way to move through these works, which appear difficult, and long.

This will not be done by examining every detail, but it will be done in such a way as we can gain an idea of the scope and direction of Marx’s intentions.


Fortunately, Marx’s division of Volume 2 into three Parts, and Volume 3 into seven Parts, will allow a convenient arrangement of the two volumes together into a “Generic Course” of ten parts, like the other eleven courses of the Communist University.

Each Part of the two books is further divided into several Chapters. We will not attempt to tackle each chapter, or to amalgamate chapters. Instead, as a rule, a suitable chapter will be chosen from each part to serve as basis for discussion, while the Introduction will attempt to relate the chosen chapter to the entire Part.

Thus, while we will not have completed an exhaustive reading of the two works, yet we will have a much better idea of their scope, their shape, and their trajectory, and with luck, a good understanding of some of their highlights, or “salient points”.

Those will be deemed suitable chapters for discussion which are short enough, and written in prose rather than relying on formulae. Otherwise, the content of the chapters will dictate.

The Puzzle of Volumes 2 and 3

The major question that arises with Volumes 2 and 3 of “Capital” is whether, as Engels wrote in his Preface to Volume 3, they contain “the most important parts of the entire work”, or whether Volume 1 remains the essential answer to the quest for “the secret of the self-increase of capital” - surplus value.  Marx’s words, also from the beginning of Volume 3, provide a clue:

“The various forms of capital, as evolved in this book, thus approach step by step the form which they assume on the surface of society, in the action of different capitals upon one another, in competition, and in the ordinary consciousness of the agents of production themselves.”

It is becoming a fashion to quote from Volume 3 in particular, in a manner that implies that a good knowledge of Volume 1 is not enough any more, or can be “trumped” by those with knowledge of Volume 3.

But if it is understood that Marx’s purpose was to challenge “economics”, and not to confirm it, and thereby to go beneath “the ordinary consciousness of the agents of production” to the real relations that exist, then Volume 1 must remain the ruling and determinant volume out of the three main volumes (Volume Four is Marx’s summarised reading notes, called “Theories of Surplus Value”).


Nevertheless, Engels’ remarks have meaning, especially today, in the context of the “Global Economic Meltdown” off 2008, and the on-going “World Economic Crisis”.

Because it is in Volume 3 that we arrive at Marx’s very clear understanding of the way that capital plays out in the dominant public realm and consequently in the power politics of the day. And this is what makes Volume 3 in particular such a valuable and indeed indispensable book for today.

To consult a different study guide, mainly composed of questions but with some fruitful links, you may go to the MIA Study Guide for Capital Volume Two, and the MIA Study Guide for Capital Volume Three.

The first week’s postings of this new course will commence next Thursday, 29 March 2012.


16 March 2012

Home Market


Marx’s Capital Volume 1, Part 10a

Poverty map of part of London, 1889; darker areas show slums or “rookeries”.

Home Market

Marx's first concern in his description of Primitive Accumulation is to establish where the labour power came from, in the metropolitan countries where capitalism was established as a system for the first time, and where it eventually proved itself to be even more profitable than the slave trade that stole people from Africa and worked them to death on plantations in North and South America and in the Caribbean islands.

The expectation that the reader brings, on seeing the phrase “primitive accumulation”, is therefore not necessarily fulfilled. It is not the case that a hoard of money was first created, whether by plunder or by any other means, so as to purchase the commencement of capitalism. Rather, it was a case of piecing together the component parts of the capitalist system, which were: the bourgeois class that had arisen from the peasantry; the dispossessed “free labouring” proletariat, also originally peasants; and the ready market for commodities constituted by both of these two new classes, together.

This new abundance of available labour power in the metropolis, personified in citizens without property, was the consequence of deliberate dispossession. It had the immediate, further consequence of producing what we now call “unemployment”, which was immediately criminalised as “vagrancy”. The unemployment was an essential precondition for capitalism to arise, yet the bourgeoisie in its eternal, cruel hypocrisy criminalised its own victims.

Our text today, downloadable via the link given below, is a compilation of Chapters 28, 29 and 30 from Marx’s “Capital”, Volume 1. It describes a time, long ago, when the slogan could have been “Capitalism is the future, build it now”. The elements of capitalism were being assembled then.

Chapter 28 is an easy read detailing the legal steps in the original case, that of England.

Having shown where their labour power came from, Marx at the beginning of Chapter 29 asks “whence came the capitalists originally?” This very short chapter answers the question in the case of the capitalist farmers, who were the necessary original capitalists, and who were already a historically-existing class in England by the late 16th century (and from which class later came, for example, Oliver Cromwell).

In Chapter 30, Marx turns his attention to the question of just how yet another of the necessary pre-requisites of capitalism came into being, namely the “home market”. The very same peasants who had been thrown off the land into the towns to live in shacks had to eat, whether they were working or not, and the farms that they had left were still the only source of food. Thus was set in motion the relation of demand and supply, and also of concentration of industries into “manufactories” as opposed to the family-scale production of earlier times. These kinds of changes can still be observed as they happen, in South Africa today.

Good images of the slums of England, also once known as “rookeries” (the equivalent of South Africa’s present-day “informal settlements”, less politely called “squatter camps”) are hard to find. The illustration above is from the “Poverty Map” of part of the East End of London, prepared by or on the orders of Charles Booth, a “philanthropist”. The red areas are "middle class, well-to-do", light blue areas are “poor, 18s to 21s a week for a moderate family”, dark blue areas are “very poor, casual, chronic want”, and black areas are the "lowest class...occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals".

Booth’s 1889 survey found that 35% of London’s huge 1889 population was living in poverty.

15 March 2012



Marx’s Capital Volume 1, Part 10


In the first of the two vivid chapters on primitive accumulation (compiled together in one document downloadable via the link below), Karl Marx describes what is required before the system of surplus value can start pumping and reproducing itself.

As Marx says, the myths around this origin are many, but the truth is written in blood and fire, the ruin of the feudal system, and the destruction of the semi-feudal, semi-bourgeois guilds in the towns of Western Europe.

These revolutions made possible the existence of “free labourers”, which is to say people with no means of production or subsistence, who must sell their only possession – their labour power – in order to survive from day to day. These are the working proletariat.

According to Marx, the capitalistic era began in the 16th century, but he does not say that capitalism was dominant or hegemonic at that time. Many of the bourgeois institutions that are nowadays taken as part of capitalism, such as double-entry book-keeping, banks, stock and bond markets, insurance, contract law and global freight navigation, were first developed under late feudalism, but especially in the 17th century, in the service of the big, bourgeois, transcontinental business of slavery, which is very different from capitalism.

How the “free labourers” historically came into existence is exemplified in the second of the two chapters, where Marx takes the “classic form” of this process as being that of England, starting from the 16th Century (i.e. 1501 to 1600). Clearly, the creation of the proletariat was contemporary with the slave trade, while the latter was dominant. Capitalism only began to supersede and to actively suppress slavery after it had matured during the period 1500 to 1800, or in other words, not until after the “industrial revolution” of the late 18th Century.

The process of eviction of people from the land is popularly known in England as “the enclosures” and in Scotland as the “Highland clearances”. To South Africans, one can say that the book describes processes of dispossession that are familiar even up to the present time. In the case of the Highlands of Scotland, one can also read that game parks (called deer forests) were replacing settlements of people from two centuries ago. The same thing is happening today in South Africa under cover of “green ecology”, and not only with game parks, but also with golf estates and horse-riding establishments.

With Chapter 27, it is not necessary to understand every local term, or to remember every local event. What is applicable still is the class struggle that underlay it all, the victorious bourgeoisie that came out on top, and the great, dispossessed, working proletariat that was left as the principal basis for capitalist extraction of surplus labour from then onwards - but also as capitalism’s inevitable gravedigger.

Picture: Brutal force, as in Cato Manor, 1960, is what has enabled the expropriation of land.

10 March 2012



Marx’s Capital Volume 1, Part 9a


Chapter 25 of Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, called The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation, is about the effects of Capital on the workforce.

Section 3 of Chapter 25 is concerned with what we nowadays refer to as Unemployment. Marx argues very directly and very convincingly in this section that unemployment is a necessary, constant, conscious and deliberate part of the capitalist system. He writes:

“The over-work of the employed part of the working-class swells the ranks of the reserve, whilst conversely the greater pressure that the latter by its competition exerts on the former, forces these to submit to overwork and to subjugation under the dictates of capital. The condemnation of one part of the working-class to enforced idleness by the overwork of the other part, and the converse, becomes a means of enriching the individual capitalists”.

In the light of what Marx says here, it can be argued that all protestations from bourgeois democrats that they are intending to provide "jobs" for all of the unemployed are false.

Early in this chapter, Marx writes:

“[The] accelerated relative diminution of the variable constituent, that goes along with the accelerated increase of the total capital, and moves more rapidly than this increase, takes the inverse form, at the other pole, of an apparently absolute increase of the labouring population, an increase always moving more rapidly than that of the variable capital or the means of employment. But in fact, it is capitalistic accumulation itself that constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relativity redundant population of labourers, i.e., a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the self-expansion of capital, and therefore a surplus-population.”

In other words, whatever may be the intention, it is capitalism itself that creates unemployment. The stories about the birthrate being too high, the immigration too much, the rand too high, the interest rate too high, et cetera, are wrong. The truth is that unemployment is intrinsic to capitalism, as much as employment is.

Although we are obliged to do everything possible to increase employment and to reduce unemployment, yet there is eventually no escape from unemployment within the capitalist mode of production.

What is required, as Marx wrote in “Value, Price and Profit”, is “abolition of the wages system”, and the wages-system’s replacement with another mode of production.

Picture: A South African mine worker (AP).

8 March 2012

Reproduction and Accumulation of Capital


Marx’s Capital Volume 1, Part 9

Reproduction and Accumulation of Capital

“The conversion of a sum of money into means of production and labour-power, is the first step taken by the quantum of value that is going to function as capital. This conversion takes place in the market, within the sphere of circulation. The second step, the process of production, is complete so soon as the means of production have been converted into commodities whose value exceeds that of their component parts, and, therefore, contains the capital originally advanced, plus a surplus-value.”

Thus Marx describes the working of capitalism, and he goes on to describe this cycle as the origin of capital. As chapter 23 goes on, Marx describes the position of the working class in terms that are easy to understand today. This chapter of Capital speaks of what has in recent years been referred to as the “accumulation path”. Marx concludes Chapter 23 by saying:

“Capitalist production, therefore, under its aspect of a continuous connected process, of a process of reproduction, produces not only commodities, not only surplus-value, but it also produces and reproduces the capitalist relation; on the one side the capitalist, on the other the wage-labourer.”

And he begins Chapter 24 by saying:

“Hitherto we have investigated how surplus-value emanates from capital; we have now to see how capital arises from surplus-value. Employing surplus-value as capital, reconverting it into capital, is called accumulation of capital.”

Later on, Marx writes that the result of capitalistic production is threefold:

1)      “that the product belongs to the capitalist and not to the worker;
2)      “that the value of this product includes, besides the value of the capital advanced, a surplus-value which costs the worker labour but the capitalist nothing, and which none the less becomes the legitimate property of the capitalist;
3)      “that the worker has retained his labour-power and can sell it anew if he can find a buyer.”

This, and the subsequent, is material that is familiar and widely accepted today.

“Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets!” says Marx.

Image: Photograph of women workers (welders), USA, 1940s

2 March 2012



Marx’s Capital Volume 1, Part 8a


Part VI of Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 1 is devoted to wages. We will use the first three chapters, 19, 20 and 21 in this section (download via the link below). The short Chapter 22, on international differences in wages, is one of the very few chapters from Volume 1 that we will leave out of this course, but you can still read it on the Marxists Internet Archive, here.

On the first page of Chapter 19 Marx says, among other things, that the "value of labour… is an expression as imaginary as the value of the earth”.

The commodity that is exchanged by the worker for money is not Labour, but Labour-Power. After that, the entire product of the worker’s labour during the contracted time belongs to the boss. The product of the worker is greater than the payment given for the worker’s labour-power. The difference is surplus-value. The extraction of surplus-value from workers in this way is the defining characteristic of capitalism.

Through these three chapters on wages Marx continues to discuss this basic point in different ways. The minimum price of labour-power is that which is sufficient to keep the worker going until the next day. Or, it may be calculated over a worker’s lifetime, as Marx demonstrates here, and divided out to give an average day-rate. In all cases, including piece-work, the capitalist pays only for labour-power, and at the minimum price that will ensure the return of the worker to the workplace, next day.

Marx finishes Chapter 21 by declaring that if, under piece-work, the workers think they can get more by producing more, the boss will remind them quickly of the true relationship, which is not payment for labour, or the product of labour, but only payment for maintenance and reproduction of labour power.

“The capitalist rightly knocks on the head such pretensions as gross errors as to the nature of wage-labour.  He cries out against this usurping attempt to lay taxes on the advance of industry, and declares roundly that the productiveness of labour does not concern the labourer at all.”

The image above is a photograph of one of the striking workers in the 1968 “Memphis Sanitation Strike”. Their union was AFSCME. Martin Luther King went to Memphis, Tennessee to show solidarity with the strikers, who were badly paid, badly treated, not recognised and racially discriminated against. King was shot dead by an assassin at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he was staying while supporting the strike.

1 March 2012

Absolute and Relative


Marx’s Capital Volume 1, Part 8

Absolute and Relative

Chapters 16, 17 and 18 of Marx’s Capital Volume 1 (download below) have very interesting things to say about absolute and relative Surplus-Value, and the old political economists’ mistakes about it. Here are some of the points made by Karl Marx:

“Capitalist production is not merely the production of commodities, it is essentially the production of surplus-value. The labourer produces, not for himself, but for capital. It no longer suffices, therefore, that he should simply produce. He must produce surplus-value. That labourer alone is productive, who produces surplus-value for the capitalist, and thus works for the self-expansion of capital.”

“The production of absolute surplus-value turns exclusively upon the length of the working-day; the production of relative surplus-value, revolutionises out and out the technical processes of labour, and the composition of society. It therefore pre-supposes a specific mode, the capitalist mode of production, a mode which, along with its methods, means, and conditions, arises and develops itself spontaneously on the foundation afforded by the formal subjection of labour to capital. In the course of this development, the formal subjection is replaced by the real subjection of labour to capital.”

“Assuming that labour-power is paid for at its value, we are confronted by this alternative: given the productiveness of labour and its normal intensity, the rate of surplus-value can be raised only by the actual prolongation of the working-day; on the other hand, given the length of the working-day, that rise can be effected only by a change in the relative magnitudes of the components of the working-day, viz., necessary labour and surplus-labour; a change which, if the wages are not to fall below the value of labour-power, presupposes a change either in the productiveness or in the intensity of the labour.”

“Bourgeois economists instinctively saw, and rightly so, that it is very dangerous to stir too deeply the burning question of the origin of surplus-value.”

“Capital, therefore, is not only, as Adam Smith says, the command over labor. It is essentially the command over unpaid labor. All surplus-value, whatever particular form (profit, interest, or rent), it may subsequently crystallize into, is in substance the materialization of unpaid labor. The secret of the self-expansion of capital resolves itself into having the disposal of a definite quantity of other people's unpaid labor.”