A Historical Materialist Definition of Capital




(December 2014)

Capital is a cyclical process unrolling at the level of the whole society. The principal moment is that of production. It is in that process that the transformation of nature and the production of surplus value are simultaneously carried out; it is where labor is performed under the conditions that allow it to furnish surplus labor.

Capital is not the juridical designation of the privately owned means of production itself. Private property, institutionalized legally, is indeed indispensable for the functioning of capital, and will take different historical forms relating to a range of capitalisms from individual to monopoly to state.

These juridical forms are seemingly distinct from wage labor. But they are required for the functioning of capitalist social relations of production. These relations are the real process of the appropriation of labor, accomplished by controlling the means of production in which the capitalist cycle is unceasingly reproducing. As a social relation, capitalist private property is historically bound to wage labor; one can’t exist without the other.

Capital is a system of social relations of production, which exists solely to recover surplus labor.

The law of value developed by the capitalist mode of production is to impose a particular and specific division of social labor between the various branches of production, and to regulate the process so as to appropriate surplus labor.

Surplus labor is not only particular to the capitalist mode of production. It has other historical forms that differ from the capitalist form. Feudal revenue is a form of surplus labor, which capital quickly abolished for its own survival. Capital is a system of social historical relations, unfolding in a chain of transitory moments that also include a whole system of economic categories (circulation and mercantile accountancy), which it requires and generalizes.

Capital is not a historically relative form, as many pseudo-revolutionaries would like us to believe. In fact, relativism is to dialectics as idealism is to materialism. Capital will not self-destruct or collapse on its own.

Instead, we must discover the means of its destruction in its core internal contradiction, in the social relation. Inside the mechanism of capital’s historical form [the mechanism for the production of surplus value] exist the causes of transformation of the material conditions [productivity of labor; the development of the productive forces] through which appear the conditions that are creating its own demise. The agent of that transformation is the proletariat, based on its political and ideological capacity.

Capital is the ensemble of social relations that must be defined as a process, as contradictions and as a historical tendency.

The task of the most advanced detachment of the proletariat, the revolutionary proletarian (communist) organization, is to analyze the economy and appropriate its concrete phases, based on the dialectic of class struggle. It must also, equally, analyze the superstructure supported by and corresponding to that economy, the ideological and political fields which function indispensably for the reproduction of the whole social relation. Marx analyzed the social relations of his time and circumstances; he unveiled the manifestation of capital in that historical moment. The production of proletarian theory is unfinished. Only the continuous, collective work and struggle of the proletariat can guarantee its advancement…and the defeat of capital.