A Synopsis of Accumulation




(November 2014)

Part of a series on surplus value

2015-05-04-so-hungry-woThe movement of capital produces surplus value with the sole purpose of turning itself into more capital, to reproduce itself on an ever-widening scale.

The simple reproduction of capital, for example through circulation, creates no new value, but instead adds to the existing value. This resulting fictitious value is consumed by the capitalist bloc in an unproductive manner. Individual capitalists consider it the ideal form of reproduction, because it provides quick and easy profits without the hassle of building and maintaining infrastructure or dealing with a workforce. But for the capitalist class as a whole, unproductive reproduction is very problematic.

The true objective of capitalist production is its own accumulation. This is both an end and a means—only through concentration can capital increase its productivity—both by increasing the productivity of labor (relative surplus value) for the production of absolute surplus value (on which all forms of capital expansion and accumulation depends).

To our sensory perception, it seems that in each cycle of production capital and labor come from two distinct poles. The capitalist and the wage earner, both owners of merchandise, appear to conduct an exchange between equivalent values: wages for labor power. In reality, it is not an equivalent exchange. When we consider the transformation of surplus value into capital, and the reproduction of capital in cycles of production, then it becomes apparent that new capital is constituted from previously accumulated surplus value. Capital is surplus that has already been extorted, stolen to be used for the further extortion of another new surplus. This is what accumulation is all about.

Each cycle of production respects the law of exchange of goods. The capitalist continuously buys labor power and the worker continuously sells it. Even if it is sold and bought at its actual value, the practice of appropriation based on the production and circulation of merchandise is transformed into thievery by the dialectic of the relation. In other words, what appears as the fair exchange of equivalents—“I work and get paid”—is a deception. In reality, the value of capital exchanged for labor power is only a fraction of the surplus produced by the use of that labor power, which is appropriated without equivalent. Plus, the initial capital investment must be replaced by the producer (the worker) by adding additional new surplus.

The reciprocal exchange relation between the capitalist and the worker is an illusion, its true nature obscured in the process of circulation. Disguised thievery is made possible by the separation of property and labor, the contrivance of the capitalist law of private property. All the economic forms of mercantile circulation, as well as all the bourgeois juridical forms of liberty, equality and private property, are neither the essence nor the origin of capitalist relations of production—but they are necessary means for their reproduction.

Capital accumulation is the fundamental phenomenon in which all the economic laws of the capitalist mode of production are embedded. Its conjunctural rhythm commands the demand for employment. Capital accumulation cannot simply be understood as a calculation of the average global rate of profit, as capitalists would have us believe. It depends above all on the processes involved in the organic transformation of capital, especially the relation of value of constant capital (means of production) to variable capital (labor power). Accumulation is based essentially on an ever-increasing rate in the productivity of labor, as well as on the productive technological development of relative surplus value.

Capital accumulation produces a double historical result:

  1. The ever-growing over-concentration of the means of production, the inevitable concentration of diverse forms of capital.
  2. The creation of an army of reserve labor that is the true “law of population growth” under the capitalist mode of production. This can take many different forms in different historical periods, depending on the conjuncture. Capital inflicts particularly acute forms of underemployment (misrepresented as “over-population”) in dominated social formations.

Marx, from the beginning, pointed to these historical effects which are now being demonstrated by structural adjustment and its applied measures.

These two historical results further illustrate that the reproduction of labor power (forcing people to work) is integral to the reproduction of capital at the social level. The working class, like any other instrument of labor, belongs to capital. And as with all instruments of labor, the process of their reproduction (their use) entails their consumption. Metal shackles held Roman and African slaves; nowadays invisible shackles hold workers—with a major difference: the worker is bound not to one owner as under slavery, but to the whole capitalist class.

The process of capitalist production, as a whole, requires for its continuity not only the production of goods, not only the production of surplus value; it also needs to produce and perpetuate the antagonistic relation between capital and labor. This leads us inevitably to the only solution, the one hated by reformists and all other foot soldiers of capital: proletarian revolution.