In preparing my upcoming talk at the Left Forum, I’m having to re-read some of Marx’s work.  Here’s from the 1857 Introduction, with my comments:

The object before us, to begin with, material production.

Here Marx obviously means the repeated process of production, i.e. reproduction.  He means the concrete totality, not the generality.

Individuals producing in Society – hence socially determined individual production – is, of course, the point of departure.

One key thing to note:

Marx’s starting point is agency (people doing something as they actually do it, concretely, historically), and not  structure (the outcome of people’s previous concrete doings, history).  Actually, I should correct myself: Marx does not start with people producing, living, doing.  In fact, Marx starts with individuals producing, living, taking action!  Horror — Marx’s a proponent of a sort of methodological individualism!  Indeed, because individuals are the true locus of agency.  Unless we endow groups with some sort of metaphysical collective consciousness above and beyond the consciousness of the individuals grouped, the starting point is subjective practical individual action.

Note also that the action, activity, or practice is conscious at some level, i.e. with some scope of consciousness, forethought.  Marx’s starting point is agency — individual agency.

Yes, there’s a chicken-and-egg nexus between agency and structure.  Structure is the outcome of what individuals do under the conditions that exist.  And it is then a new starting point, which enables and/or constrains the actions of individuals.  But the point of departure is individuals taking action: producing in society, i.e. producing under certain, given, existing conditions.

What do individuals produce?  They produce both goods, use values, and also their social life, their social relations.  And since they do this repeatedly, it’s a process of reproduction of goods and social relations.  A process of social reproduction carried out by individuals in action!

No production possible without an instrument of production, even if this instrument is only the hand. No production without stored-up, past labour, even if it is only the facility gathered together and concentrated in the hand of the savage by repeated practice. Capital is, among other things, also an instrument of production, also objectified, past labour. Therefore capital is a general, eternal relation of nature; that is, if I leave out just the specific quality which alone makes ‘instrument of production’ and ‘stored-up labour’ into capital.

Witness the modern notion in economics of human capital.  Human capital is fictitious capital, capitalized income, etc.  But, at this point, I find it is trivial for Marxists to re-emphasize the point Marx makes that the economists conflate capitalism with human history, capitalist production with production in general, etc.  What I find of note here (to Marxists, since they are the ones throwing the baby with the dirty water) is the notion that skills acquired by repeated practice, embodied in the “savage” herself, are “stored-up, past labor.”  That is the rational germ in the notion of human capital.  In other words, the fact that labor power needs to be reproduced.

Lastly, production also is not only a particular production. Rather, it is always a certain social body, a social subject, which is active in a greater or sparser totality of branches of production.

The producer is a collective producer, a socialized producer, always, at the scale of the totality of society.  The socialization of production peaks under capitalism, the mutual interdependence embracing the human race as a whole.

All production is appropriation of nature on the part of an individual within and through a specific form of society. In this sense it is a tautology to say that property (appropriation) is a precondition of production. But it is altogether ridiculous to leap from that to a specific form of property, e.g. private property. (Which further and equally presupposes an antithetical form, non-property.)

This is the reason why I like the modern term in economics, “excludability,” economic (as opposed to legal) ownership, but viewed as a point in a continuum.  It says loudly and clearly that private ownership means excluding others from access to wealth.

Protection of acquisitions etc. When these trivialities are reduced to their real content, they tell more than their preachers know. Namely that every form of production creates its own legal relations, form of government, etc. In bringing things which are organically related into an accidental relation, into a merely reflective connection, they display their crudity and lack of conceptual understanding. All the bourgeois economists are aware of is that production can be carried on better under the modern police than e.g. on the principle of might makes right.

This is good.  I’ll just add here that instead of “every form of production creates…”, I’d write: “every form of production tends to create…”  Whether a form of production succeeds at creating its own legal superstructure depends on whether it succeeds at creating a political superstructure conducive to it.  In turn, that depends on winning the ideological struggle.   Of course, this should be construed “dialectically” — if I may put it that way — because legal changes induce political shifts, which in turn induce shifts in ideology.

This is the quote I was looking for when I was arguing why Bush’s imperialist doctrine of unilateral preemptive war was contrary to the interest of capital as a totality.   Bush dismissed the wisdom of the old bourgeois economists.  (Note that I’ve learned this neat distinction introduced by the English translators of Grundrisse, a distinction that Spanish translators did not clarify duly. )

They forget only that this principle is also a legal relation, and that the right of the stronger prevails in their ‘constitutional republics’ as well, only in another form.

Two things here: (1) Even in a constitutional republic, with the most advanced formal democracy, might makes right, and (2) the form is different from outright tyranny (form matters).

I’ll leave here for now.


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