Marx on capital's globalization: the dialectic of negativity - Paresh Chattopadhyay

Paresh Chattopadhyay's essay on the globalisation of capital using the Marxian term 'world market' to explore the spread of neo-liberal capitalism under the auspices of 'globalisation'.

Submitted by libcom on July 28, 2005

In what follows, 'capital', following Marx, refers to a historically specific mode of production (based on the producers' separation from the conditions of production) and the corresponding social relation between producers and the owners of the conditions of production - the basis of the modern society. In this situation the conditions of production (including the means of production) become 'capital. Hence capital's, globalization signifies the existence of capital in this sense with the whole world as it's theatre of operation.

Through the exact term 'globalisation of capital' is absent in Marx, the underlying concept could broadly be subsumed under the specific Marxian term `world market.' True, 'world market' along with 'foreign trade' figures among Marx's unrealised projects of what he considered to be the 'system of bourgeois economy' (1859 Preface). Nevertheless, in his different texts Marx returns repeatedly to `world market' as a key category in his investigation of the "law of motion of capital."


Marx's `Critique of Political Economy' is a vast exercise in what he calls in his Parisian manuscripts (1844), referring to Hegel's greatness in his Phenomenology, "the dialectic of negativity as the moving and creating principle." Marx shows how capital creates the subjective and objective conditions of its own negation and, simultaneously, the elements of the new society destined to supersede it a "union of free individuals", or a "society of free and ____________________________________________________________________________

*An earlier version was presented to the Third international Marx Congress in Paris (September 26-29, 2001).

associated producers", that is socialism or communism (they mean the same thing in Marx). Now, the existence of universally developed individuals subordinating their social relations to their own control - the very essence of socialism - is not something naturally given, it is a "product of history" presupposing a whole series of material conditions, themselves the product of a "long and painful development" (1953: 77; 1962a: 94). And if the material conditions of production and the corresponding relations of circulation for a classless society do not exist in a latent form in the society as it is, (then) "all attempts at making the society explode would be Don Quixotism" (1953; 77). Precisely it is capital which creates the requisite conditions of the proletarian (and thereby human) emancipation.

Unlike what happened in the earlier modes of production, products under CMP take, in general, the form of commodities. The contradictory character of the necessary and surplus labour relations, true for all class societies, takes on a special meaning with labour's subsumption under capital. ln pre capitalist social formations where use values and not exchange values dominate surplus labour is circumscribed by a more or less fixed circle of needs. Contrariwise, when exchange values and not use values dominate, the importance of surplus labour beyond necessary labour assumes a far greater significance. This translates the drive for enrichment for the sake of enrichment "The enrichment mania (Bereicherungssucht) itself," writes Marx, " is impossible without money, the common form in which all commodities are transformed as exchange values. All other accumulation and passion for accumulation appear as naturally given, limited, on the one hand by needs, and, on the other hand, conditioned by the limited nature of the product" (1953: 80,83). It is only under capital that exchange values as opposed to use values dominate. Naturally, capital's "enrichment mania" comes out palpably in the circuit of money capital (M-C...P...C-M). "It expresses that it is the exchange value and not use value which is the determining end-in-itself of the movement. Just because the money form of value is its autonomous, palpable phenomenal form, the circulation form M-M, whose beginning and end points are real money, expresses palpably the money making as the driving motive of capitalist production. The production process (itself) appears only as an unavoidable link, a necessary evil, for the purpose of money making" (1973c: 62). Under capital the constraint on labour to extend labour time beyond necessary labour time is maximum (Marx 1976: 174). "Production for production's sake as an end in itself", writes Marx, "already appears with the formal subsumption of labour under capital as soon as the immediate goal of production becomes the production of as big a surplus value as possible (and) exchange value of products becomes the decisive aim . . .. This is production which is not bound either by limited needs nor by needs which limit it. This is one side, positive side if you like, as distinguished from the earlier modes of production" (1988:107; the expression "if you like" appears in English in the text). In an earlier manuscript Marx observes: "Capital as representing the universal form of wealth is the limitless, measureless drive to transgress its limits. Its every limit must have to be limited, otherwise it ceases to be capital - money as producing itself . . .. The quantitative frontier of surplus value appears to it only as a natural limit, as necessity, which it perpetually seeks to overcome, perpetually to transgress" (1953:240).


Capitalist production in no way produces at an arbitrary level. On the contrary, more it develops more it is compelled to produce on a scale which has nothing to do with immediate demands, but which depends on the continuous enlargement of the world market (Marx 1959:465). If the surplus labour or surplus value were represented simply in national surplus product, the increase of value for the sake of value and thereby the exaction of surplus value - the hallmark of CMP - would find its limit in a narrow circle of use values in which the value of the national labour is represented. It is only the external trade which develops the true nature of value of the surplus product while the external trade develops the labour contained in the surplus product as social labour which is represented in an infinite series of different use values and in reality lends sense to abstract wealth. It is only the external trade, the development of market into world market, which develops money into world money and the abstract labour into social labour. Capitalist production rests on value or the development of labour contained in it as social labour. This is however possible only on the basis of external trade and world market. The world market is therefore the pre supposition as well as the result of the capitalist production (1962b: 252). Surplus value created at one pole necessitates for its realization the creation of surplus value at another pole. As capital tends, on the one hand, to create surplus value continuously, it tends, on the other hand, to create complementary poles of exchange, that is, fundamentally, to call forth production based on capital and thus propagate CMP across the globe. Thus the tendency to create world market is inherent in the concept of capital itself. To capital each limit appears as an obstacle to be surmounted. Capital tends to submit each moment of production itself to exchange, to substitute its own mode of production for the modes of production (appearing earlier) which it finds too much rooted in nature (1953: 311, 313). Capital compels all regions to adopt its own mode of production. Capital, indeed, creates the world in its own image. Instead of allowing the exchange of only the surplus portion of the two autonomous poles of production, trade appears under CMP as a necessary moment and presupposition of the totality of production itself. On the one hand, the world market itself creates the CMP, while, on the other hand, the need for this mode of production to produce at an ever expanding scale, leads to the constant enlargement of the world market so that instead of trade revolutionizing industry, it is industry which continuously revolutionizes trade (Marx, 1964: 345 46; 1992: 406-07). At the same time capital posits the production of wealth itself and thus the universal development of productive powers, the continuing revolutionization of the existing presuppositions, as the presupposition of its own production. This is the universalising tendency of capital in contrast with all the previous modes of production. In place of the old local and national self- sufficiency and seclusion capital creates all sided intercourse and all sided interdependence of the world regions. "The cosmopolitan relation of the individuals with one another," Marx underlines, `is originally only their relations as commodity producers. The commodity in and for itself is raised above every religious, political, national and linguistic barrier. Its universal language is price and its community is money. However, with the development of world money in opposition to national currencies the cosmopolitanism of the commodity producers develops as faith in practical reason in opposition to the hereditary, religious, national and other prejudices which hamper the material exchanges of individuals" (1980: 213). Let us stress that individuals relate to one another simply as commodity producers only under CMP.


Needless to add, in course of its temporal and spatial development, CMP has proved to be the most destructive among all the modes of production that have existed so far in human evolution. Continuing through the plunder, uprooting, enslavement and outright murder of peoples perpetrated at an unprecedented scale across the globe, right at its `rosy dawn', capitalist transformation of the production process with the whole globe as its theatre, has, above all, meant the martyrdom of the producers; and the technology and the combination of the social process of production developed by it has meant the simultaneous exhaustion of the twin sources from which springs all wealth: the earth and the labourer (1962a: 528 30, 779; 1965: 998 99,1212 13). However, "all determination is negation, and all negation is determination," as Marx wrote in the first manuscript of Capital II paraphrasing and adapting Spinoza's famous expression. (This manuscript does not appear in Engels's edition). In a significant passage in his 1857 58 Manuscript Marx writes: "The march of development of society is not at all that because an individual has satisfied his (her) needs, s/he creates his (her) surplus; on the contrary, because an individual or a class of individuals is forced to labour more than is necessary to satisfy their needs because there is surplus labour on one side - that non labour and surplus wealth on the other side is posited. From the point of view of (actual) reality the development of wealth exists only in these contradictions; from the point of view of possibility its development is precisely the possibility of abolishing these contradictions" (1953: 305).

Now, wealth in its autonomous being exists only for either directly forced labour - slavery - or indirectly forced labour - wage labour. The directly forced labour does not confront wealth as capital, but only as a relation of (personal) domination. Therefore on the basis of directly forced labour there will only be the reproduction of relation of (personal) domination for which wealth itself has value only as enjoyment, not as wealth as such, "a relation therefore, which can never create universal industry" (Marx, 1953: 232). In a 1861 63 manuscript Marx observes: "The original unity between the labourer and the conditions of production has two main forms: the Asiatic community (natural communism) and the small family agriculture (bound with household industry). Both are infantile forms and equally little suited to develop labour as social labour and productive power of social labour, whence the necessity of separation, of rupture, of the opposition between labour and ownership. The extreme form of this rupture within which at the same time the productive forces of social labour are most powerfully developed is the form of capital. On the material basis which it creates and by the means of the revolutions which the whole society undergoes in the process of creating it can the original unity be restored" (1962b: 419). In other words, with all its immense destruction, capital also necessarily creates the elements of its own negation and those of the material foundation of a new society. The development of productive forces, which capital has carried forward more than any previous mode of production, is an absolutely necessary practical precondition of human emancipation because without it only the poverty will be generalized and, with the need, shall also start the struggle for necessity. Besides, only with this universal development of the productive forces can universal intercourse of human beings be posited. Only such a movement on a world scale makes possible the replacement of local individuals with really universal individuals whose horizon is world historic (Marx, 1973a: 33, 34).


Marx discusses at some length the contradictory character of the spontaneously created connection of the individuals with the totality simultaneously with reciprocal independence and indifference of the individuals independently of their knowledge and will - connection established only under capital precisely mediated by the world market. Marx emphasizes that this "objective connection" (sachliche Zusammenhang) is "certainly preferable" to the absence of all connections or to the only local connections narrowly based on blood relations or on the relations of lordship and bondage. Individuals cannot dominate their own social relations before creating them. The individuals universally developed, whose social relations are subordinated to their own common control as their own common relations, are a product of history, not of nature. "The degree and the universality of the development of capacities (Vermögen) where this individuality becomes possible precisely presupposes production on the basis of exchange values which together with the alienation of the individual in relation to oneself as well as to others creates also the universality and all-sidedness of the individual's relations and capacities" (1953: 79-80). In a discourse to the workers in 1847 Marx referred to the big industries, the free competition and the world market as the "positive side of capital," because without these conditions neither could the material means for workers' emancipation and the foundation of a new society be created, nor could the proletariat itself have the necessary union and development enabling it to revolutionize the old society along with itself (1973b: 555). It is precisely the free movement of capital across the globe that allows free play of its economic laws on a world scale culminating in the periodic crises of overproduction and leading to extreme antagonism between the capitalists and the great mass of producers, thereby hastening the process of social revolution - the sole reason why Marx justified free trade as opposed to protection. On the whole, in order that the CMP becomes unbearable, it must create at an increasing scale the masses of individuals deprived of the material means of living and, at the same time, produce immense wealth confronting these masses and dominating them as an autonomous, alien power. This alienation as a historical process finds its most brutal expression as well as its culmination in the world market. By this very process, capital, as a fanatical agent of valorization, creates, by developing labour as social labour at a universal level and by the universal development of the social productive powers - precisely mediated by the globalization process - the material conditions of production which alone can build the real basis of a higher social formation whose basic principle is the free development of every individual bereft of both personal and objective dependence. Indeed, if there is no antagonism there is no progress. Till now the productive forces have developed thanks to this regime of class antagonism, as Marx underlined in his 1947 polemic with Proudhon. And as he insisted in Capital, the only real way in which a mode of production and the corresponding social organization advances towards their own dissolution and their metamorphosis is the historical development of their immanent antagonisms. Thus capitalist production continuously seeks to overcome its inherent limits, but it overcomes them only through the means which reproduce them again and on an enlarged scale. What is fundamental in this process is the revolt of capital's "grave diggers" against the system. In the justly celebrated words of Marx, "With the increasing misery, oppression, servitude, decadence, exploitation under capitalist production also grows the revolt of the ever swelling working class, disciplined, trained, united and organized by the mechanism of the capitalist process of production itself . . .. Capitalist production begets, with the necessity of a natural process, its own negation" (1962a: 791; 1965: 1239). Marx added in Capital's French version that "In history, as in nature, putrefaction is the laboratory of life".

Paresh Chattopadhyay

Université du Québec à Montréal

e-mail: [email protected]



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. Let us note that the term `world market' is not consistently used by Marx in a single sense. Mostly used to include the capitalist mode of production (CMP) - which alone, in contrast with the earlier modes, can have a universal economic intercourse - it is sometimes used in the narrower sense of commodity exchange as such.

. At this period, when Marx was still a great admirer of Feuerbach and a sharp critic of Hegel, Marx faulted Feuerbach for his unilateral criticism of Hegel's idealism and his failure to see what Marx calls Hegel's "greatness" in the Phenomenology of Spirit precisely in the "dialectic of negativity as the moving and generating principle" (1966a: 67).

. Needless to add, this socialism has nothing at all to do with what passed for `socialism' in different parts of the world for several decades after the Bolshevik conquest of power in Russia in 1917.

. It should also be emphasized, following the Communist Manifesto that "the theoretical maximes of the communists are in no way based on the ideas, the principles invented or discovered by this or that world reformer. They are only the general expressions of the actual relations of the existing class struggle, of the historical movement going on before our eyes" (Marx 1966b: 70).

. The self emancipation of the proletariat would automatically imply human emancipation in general because in capitalism - the last antagonistic social formation in what Marx famously names the "prehistory of human society" - there is no class below the proletariat. "The proletariat cannot abolish its own conditions of existence without abolishing all the inhuman conditions of the present society which are summed up in its own situation" (Marx 1958: 38).

. Speaking of the mercantilists at the "threshold of bourgeois production," Marx writes, "As the aim of circulation money is the exchange value or abstract wealth, the determining goal and the driving motive of production . . ., the inextinguishable war of the modern economists against the monetary-mercantilist system rests largely on the fact that this system divulges in brutal-naive form the secret of bourgeois production, its subservience to exchange value. They do not want to recognize this system as the barbaric form of their own fundamental presupposition. . . . In reality the accumulation of money for money's sake is the barbaric form of production for the sake of production that is, the development of productive powers of social labour beyond the limits of conventional needs" (1980: 196, 219).

. Let us say a word about the Marxian notion of labour's `subsumption' under capital. This refers to labour's subordination under and absorption by capital. From the point of view of labour's relation to capital Marx mentions two successive phases of its development. These phases he calls `formal' and `real' subsumption of labour by capital. Labour is formally subsumed under capital as soon as the labourers are separated from the conditions of production which become capitalists' property with labourers turned into salaried or wage labourers. Thereby the capitalist mode of production is established. However, in the beginning and for a long period, capital is not in a position to create its own method of production and it takes over the existing method or technique of production from the previous modes of production. At this stage, in the absence of increase in the productivity of labour, by and large, the basic method of increasing the surplus value extorted from the labourers is the prolongation of the working day. This kind of surplus value is what Marx calls `absolute surplus value' and the subsumption of labour to which it corresponds is called `formal' subsumption. It is only later that capital evolves its own method of production by technological changes - unknown to the previous modes of production - leading to increases in labour's productivity. The increase in surplus value extorted at this stage does not depend mainly on the prolongation of the working day. It depends fundamentally on the increase in labour productivity due to technological change. Hence this type of surplus value is called by Marx `relative surplus value' and the subsumption of labour corresponding to it is called `real' subsumption of labour by capital. This is capital's specific way of subjugating labour, unlike any previous mode of subjugating labour by the owners of the conditions of production.

. Marx praised Ricardo who "sees things from the standpoint of the big bourgeoisie" and who "considered capitalist production as the most advantageous for creating wealth," for his "profound understanding of the positive nature of capital" inasmuch as Ricardo had insisted on the creation of wealth for the sake of wealth, production for the sake of production." If it is maintained," Marx continued, " as is done by the sentimental adversaries of Ricardo, that production as such is not the goal, it is forgotten that production for the sake of production is nothing but the development of the human productive powers, therefore the development of the wealth of human nature as an end in itself" (1959: 106-07; 1962b: 48, 50; 1988: 376; emphasis in text). In his "Urtext" (1858) Marx had noted this tendency already in Petty who had expressed, "in the language and the mode of representation of the monetarists, the energetic, merciless, universal drive for wealth of the English nation" (1980: 34).

. "(Capital) produces at a level of society in comparison to which all earlier levels appear only as local development of humanity and as the idolatry of nature. Nature becomes only a pure object for the human, a pure matter of utility. It ceases to be recognized as a power for itself, and even the theoretical knowledge of its autonomous laws appears only as a ruse for the purpose of submitting them to the human needs either as an object of consumption or as means of production. Following this tendency capital strives to transgress national barriers and prejudices as well as the divinisation of nature and the traditional satisfaction of existing needs confined within the self sufficient definite limits and the reproduction of the old mode of life. Capital is destructive of all this and continuously revolutionizes and tears down all barriers which limit the development of productive forces, the enlargement of needs, the diversification of production and the exploitation as well as exchange of natural and intellectual forces" (Marx 1953: 313).

. "The great historical side of capital is to create (this) surplus labour, . . . and capital's historical destination (Bestimmung) is fulfilled as soon as, on the one hand, the needs are so far developed that surplus labour over necessary labour is itself a universal need arising out of the individual needs themselves, and, on the other hand, the general industriousness due to capital's severe discipline, through which successive generations will have passed, is developed as the universal acquisition . . .. As restless striving for the universal form of wealth capital drives labour over the limits of labour's natural needs and thus creates the material elements for the development of a rich individuality which is all sided in production as well as in consumption . . . that is why capital is productive; that is, (it) is an essential relation for the development of social productive powers" (Marx 1953: 231).

. The sequence `original union - separation - reunion' at a higher level (between the labourer and the conditions of production) later appears in Marx's address to the workers in 1865 (in Marx and Engels 1970: 208). It should be observed that the "restoration of the original union in a new historical form" through the negation of "separation" under capitalism precisely takes place in communism or socialism. Here at last the humanity leaves behind its "prehistory" where community as an autonomous power had subjugated the singular individuals and hence was a "false community." The humanity now enters its proper history and creates the "true community" whose members are "universally developed social individuals," "subjecting their social relations to their own control" (Marx 1966a: 252-53; 1973a: 74; 1953: 593).

. In his manuscript for Capital III Marx writes: "In India the British employed their political and economic power to smash the small economic communities (in the village). To the extent that they, through the cheapening of their commodities and underselling destroyed spinning and weaving which was a hoary integrating part of the unity of industrial and agricultural production, and thereby tore apart the communities, their trade exerted a revolutionary influence on the mode of production." Marx notes the "slowness" of the "dissolving work" due to the obstacles put up by the "solidity and organisation of the earlier, mode(s) of production" (1992: 407, the term "underselling" appears in English. This term is absent in Engels's edition. Similarly the term "earlier" was changed into "pre-capitalist" by Engels (See Marx, 1964: 346).

Earlier in his 1850s essays on India - ill understood specially by the Indian `patriots,' Right and Left - Marx had referred to the British act of dissolution of India's village communities through the destruction of their economic basis and had written: "Sickening as it must be to the human feeling to witness (these) patriarchal and inoffensive social organisations disorganized and thrown into the sea of woes, we must not forget that these idyllic village communities had always restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstitions, enslaving it beneath traditional rules, and (were) contaminated by distinctions of caste and by slavery, subjugating man to external circumstances instead of elevating man to be the sovereign of circumstances" (1974: 40-41).

. Justifying his "vote for free trade" Marx observed: "The system of free trade is destructive. It dissolves the old nationalities and drives towards extreme antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In a word, the system of free trade hastens the social revolution" (1965: 156).

. Referring to the conditions elaborated by the labouring individual under capital as related "not to the conditions of labourer's own wealth but to those of alien wealth and the labourer's poverty," Marx underlines that "this contradictory form itself is however a vanishing form and produces the real conditions of its own abolition. The outcome is, tendentially and potentially, the universal development of the productive forces in the same way as the universality of intercourse as the basis, (and) following thereform, the world market as the basis; the basis as the possibility of the universal development of the individual and the real development of individuals on this basis as the perpetual transgression of its barrier which is recognized as barrier and not held as a sacred limit" (1953: 439-40).

. "In proportion as the labour develops, and thereby becomes the source of wealth, poverty and demoralisation among the labourers and wealth and culture among the non-labourers develop. This is the law of the whole hitherto existing history. In the present day capitalist society material etc. conditions have finally been created which enable and compel the labourers to smash this historical malediction" (Marx 1966b: 17-176).