Lecture 1: The Aim, Structure and Scope of CAPITAL

Lecture 1: The Aim, Structure and Scope of CAPITAL from Raya Dunavevskaya's Outline of Marx’s Capital Volume I.

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on April 15, 2022

“It is the ultimate aim of this work,” Marx writes in the Preface to Volume I, “to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society.” (p. 92) This aim is as far removed from the subject matter of bourgeois economics as is the espousal of revolution from the defense of the status quo.

Marxism is wrongly considered to be a new “political economy.” It is true that, loosely speaking, even Marxists refer to Marx’s analysis of capitalist production as “Marxian political economy” But “Marxian political economy” is, in reality, a critique of the very foundations of political economy, which is nothing else than the bourgeois mode of thought of the bourgeois mode of production.

Marx subtitled CAPITAL, “A Critique of Political Economy.” It would have been impossible fully to analyze the laws of development of the bourgeois mode of production through an “extension” of political economy since political economy deals with economic categories, such as, commodities, wages, money, profits, as if they were things instead of expressions of social relations. It is true, of course, that man’s cardinal tie in this society is exchange, and that this makes social relations appear as relations of things. But these things belie, instead of manifest, the essence. To separate the essence – the social or class relations – from the appearance – the exchange of commodities – required a new science. This new science – Marxism – means the application of dialectics to the developmental laws of the bourgeois economic system.

“Hegel’s dialectic is the basic form of all dialectic,” Marx wrote to Kugelman, “but only after it has been stripped of its mystical form, and it is precisely this which distinguishes my method.” (Marx-Engels Correspondence, p. 234) In the Preface to CAPITAL Marx explains that dialectics, in its rational form, is “the comprehension of the affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up. “ Engels defines dialectics as “the science of the general laws of motion both of the external world and of human thought.” (Ludwig Feuerbach) To discern the law of motion of capitalist society, its inevitable collapse, one has to be capable of seeing this specific mode of production for what it is – an historic stage in the development of social production.

The Historical Approach

The multitude of productive forces available to men determine the nature of their society. Man is essentially a tool-making animal, and the process of the production of his material life, the process of labor, means the process of the growth of the productive forces and his command over nature. “Industry,” Marx explains, “is the real historic relation of nature, and consequently of the science of nature, to man.” (Private Property and Communism, In Russian and German only)

The industrial revolution, the progress of natural science, and the general technological advance have so revolutionizes the mode of production that there is, finally, the basis of true freedom – freedom from want and from exploitation . However, “in the first instance” (this phrase Marx uses to refer to the entire history of capitalism) this has taken the contradictory form of labor’s enslavement to capital.

This capital-labor relationship Marx sets out to analyze with the theoretical tool first discovered by classical political economy – the labor theory of value. If labor is the source of value, as the classicists discovered, then it is also the source of surplus value, says Marx. This logical conclusion from its own theory, classical political economy could not deduce because, Marx explains, it could not get out of its “bourgeois skin.” It viewed the capital-labor relationship as a law of nature, instead of a law of an historic mode of production.

“In so far as Political Economy remains within that (bourgeois) horizon, in so far, i.e., as the capitalist regime is looked upon as the absolute final form of social production, instead of a passing historical phase of its evolution, Political Economy can remain a science only so long as the class-struggle is latent or manifests itself only in isolated and sporadic phenomena.” (p. 96) That period began in 1776. with the publication of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and ended with the definitive edition of Ricardo’s Political Economy, in 1821.

With the full conquest of political power by the bourgeoisie in the revolutions of 1630, “The class struggle practically as well as theoretically took on more and more outspoken and threatening forms. It sounded the death-knell of scientific bourgeois economy. It was thenceforth no longer a question whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful or harmful. In place of disinterested enquirers there were hired prize-fighters.” (p. 97) The period, 1820 to 1830. marks the close of the classical period and is characterized by Marx as the “Disintegration of the Ricardian School.” The peak of the classical period was reached in the work of Ricardo. Political economy as an independent science could go no further, and went no further.

The Structure and Scope

Marx wrote A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy in 1859,This was the first form in which his major theoretical work was written. He had put in most of his adult life in studying and analyzing the bourgeois mode of production before he published this work, and another eight years elapsed before this work was rewritten and assumed definitive shape as the first volume of CAPITAL. What method was used to sift all the mass of data, and, how was it molded to assume the structure that we now have?

Marx tells us: “In the method of treatment the fact that by mere accident I have again glanced through Hegel’s Logic has been of great service to me...” (Marx-Engels Correspondence. p. 102) And Engels writes Conrad Schmidt: “If you just compare the development of the commodity into capital in Marx with the development from Being to Essence in Hegel, you will get quite a good parallel from the concrete development which results from facts..,” (Ibid. p. 495)

With this in view it is easy to see that the eight parts into which CAPITAL is divided, can be comprised within three general sections:

(I) The Phenomena of Capitalism, or the Buying and Selling of Commodities. Under this heading are included Part I, Commodities and Money, and Part II, The Transformation of Money into Capital.

(II) The Essence of Capitalism – The Capitalist Labor Process. This section is subdivided into two: (1) The Production of Absolute and Relative Surplus Value, which includes Parts III, IV and V, and (‘2) The Results of the Process of Production, or-the Transformation of the Value of Labor Power into Wages. (Part VI)

It is true that wages is the phenomenal appearance of the value of labor power, but since he deals with this phenomena after he has dealt with the essential labor process, Marx discusses it in essential terms. Thus, while considering the buying and selling of labor power while we; were in the market, in Part II, Marx wrote that the laborer “and the owner of money meet in the market, and deal with each other as on the basis of equal rights, with this difference alone, that one is buyer, the other seller; both, therefore, equal in the eyes of the law.” (p,271) Marx, now that we have examined the inner abode of production, writes of this same money relationship, thus; “This phenomenal form, which makes the actual relation invisible, and, indeed, shows the direct opposite of that relation, forms the basic of all the juridical notions of both laborer and capitalist, of all the mystifications of the capitalistic mode of production, of all its illusions as to liberty, of all the apologetic shifts of the vulgar economists” (p. 680)

(III) The Law of Motion of Capitalist Society. Under this heading can be comprised Part VII, The Accumulation of Capital, and part VIII: The So-called Primitive Accumulation. Where the first (Part VII) is the theoretical culmination of the book, the second (Part VII) depicts the historical beginnings of capitalism. However, theory and history are not divided, but interwoven, and it is precisely in the historical section, where Marx includes the justly famous “Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation,” thus:

“Along with the constantly diminishing number of magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized, by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” (pp. 929)

Within the framework of Marx’s own description of the aim of his work, the dialectic method by which he hopes to accomplish his aim, and the structure into which he molds his analysis of “the capitalist mode of production, and the conditions or production and exchange corresponding to that mode” it should not be too difficult to begin the study of CAPITAL.