Pardon the Extrusion, Part 1 By S. Artesian

 
1. Marx undertakes his critique of small “c” capital prior to, during, and after his critique of big “C” Capital as an object lesson of sorts for the “Theses on Feuerbach”:

IX.  The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is the contemplation of single individuals and civil society.

X.  The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.

Then comes the famous XI: Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretirt, es kommt darauf an sie zu verändern.

Well, we know how this works.  No sooner is interpretation critiqued and exposed as more than inadequate but rather as an actual condition of alienation, of alienated labor, than the critique and exposition are themselves recuperated through interpretation.   “Marx meant this…Marx meant that…Marx really meant something else.”  

What Marx meant, the interpretation of Marx is nothing.  The conditions, the path of Marx’s own labor in developing his critique are everything.  Marx’s begins with the collapse of Hegel’s attempt to account for history as the product of reason; with the failure of reason to reproduce itself, and be reproduced in social humanity.

From this wreckage, from the capitulation of Hegel’s system to things as they are,  Marx extracted the irreconcilability of production and need, of surplus with subsistence; of the labor process and the value process despite, or because, each existed only in the organization of the other; both existed as one.  

II.  Back in the day when she knew she was talking, Margaret Thatcher, the late Margaret Thatcher, the too little too late late Margaret Thatcher was quoted as saying, “There is no such thing as society,” which amounts to, I guess,  the damned Dame’s anti-thesis on Feuerbach…more or less.

But give the devil his due, and his baroness, Thatcher almost knew what she was talking about.  She most certainly knew what she wouldn’t talk about, and that was class struggle.  She wouldn’t talk about it because she was waging it.  So she dropped the “no such thing as society” in as a place-holder for the anti-love that dare not speak its name.  No society, because society is a historical product and we know that the bourgeoisie imagine themselves, recognize themselves, kiss mirror reflections of themselves while shaving, as the end to history.  Was, but not now.  Was, but won’t be, won’t ever be.

“There is no such thing as society,” said Thatcher, channeling Jeremy Bentham.  Bentham said:  The community is a fictitious body, composed of the individual persons who are considered as constituting as it were its members. The interest of the community then is, what?—the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it,”  thus establishing that nothing is quite so important to the ideology of class society than the denial of class.

Bentham, dead since 1832, but with head and skeleton preserved, dressed, and padded with hay, is kept on public display as the so-called “auto-icon”  at the University College of London.  On the 100th, and again on the 150th anniversary of  the founding of the College, its directors had the corpse rolled into to its meetings where auto-Jeremy was asked its opinion on the current state of Britain.  No record of Bentham’s response has been released, but could there ever be a more perfect representation of the status of British capitalism than the one provided by the directors of the University College?  Asking it’s own corpse for advice?

So anyway, in her death as in her life, Thatcher established herself as the most perfect offspring of the coupling of British political economy and British empiricism.  The greatest ignorance, pettiness, venality is the greatest good.

So there’s no society and definitely no history, there’s only nature, and nature’s most perfect, and natural, creation, the market.

Ahistorical, timeless, eternal, powerful, just, merciless, a place for everything, and everything finds its place in the market– if I didn’t know better, I’d think the bourgeoisie were pantheists.

III. Marx knew what he was talking about too.  And what he was reading.  If history was not a product of reason, and vice-versa ; if society did not function as a manifestation of reason– then how were history and society produced?  And how did human beings become both producers and products of such “irrationality”?
 
In essence, Marx begins, not with a labor theory of value, but with the labor theory of history– human beings appropriate  the material world through their labor–and that labor activity, that laboring activity, is social.  It is mediated, organized, configured by the social relations compelling, permitting, enabling, or expropriating that labor.  
 
History has no telos, no purpose, but the labor process does, and that purpose is the satisfaction of human needs.  It is the peculiar, unique, specifically human characteristic of human labor, that in seeking to satisfy those needs,  that labor produces more than what is needed and more needs.  Both, the production of surplus and the development of more needs occur and only have meaning because of the social character of that labor process.  
 
That human labor that can be objectified, embodied not simply in objects fashioned by human hands, but embodied in conditions that convert the objects of labor into property, into the property of others. 

Labor is posited then as wealth-producing,  as social only in its own opposition; in its subjugation by objectified labor; in the opposition of labor to the conditions of labor.

The point here?  That “irrationality” is an historical condition, a manufactured product, a social organization of the labor process.  Willkommen in der Welt von Wert

IV.  Marx’s critique of capital is the opposition of labor to the conditions of labor; that is the immanence in his immanent critique of capital.  At some point every self-contradiction, every manifestation of conflict, every moment of capital gets traced back, and move ahead, to the opposition of labor to the condition of labor. And there are many, many moments of conflict which, because they are moments, can be more or less acute.  

The severity of the conflicts in any particular moment depends on the overall development of capital- the “breadth” so to speak of its exploitation of wage-labor;  the intensity of its development in any one sector, locale, region country–the “depth” so to speak of its exploitation of wage-labor; and the obstacles capital has created to expanding its breadth by its breadth; the obstacles it has created to increasing its intensity of exploitation by the intensity of exploitation; and not only the obstacles it creates, but the obstacles it accommodates and  integrates by absorbing all exchange, all circulation, into its circulation.  All conditions of appropriated labor, all  objectified property becomes basic to capitalist appropriated labor; to capitalist property.

V.  Everything you need to know about “developed” capitalism, “developing” capitalism,  “equilibrium,” the organic composition of capital, the value composition of capital, necessary labor-time, surplus labor-time is here:

Like many of his Inca ancestors, Juan Apaza is possessed by gold.  Descending into an icy tunnel 17,000 feet up in the Peruvian Andes, the 44 year old miner stuffs a wad of coca leaves into his mouth to brace himself for the inevitable hunger and fatigue.  For 30 days each month Apaza toils, without pay, deep inside this mine dug down under a glacier above the world’s highest town, La Rinconada.  For 30 days he faces the dangers that have killed many of his fellow miners–explosives toxic gases, tunnel collapses–to extract the gold that the world demands.  Apaza does all this, without pay, so that he can make it to today, the 31st day, when he and his fellow miners are given a single shift, four hours or maybe a little more, to haul out and keep as much rock as their weary shoulders can bear.  Under the ancient lottery system that still prevails in the high Andes, known as cachorreo, this is what passes for a paycheck: a sack of rocks that may contain a small fortune in gold or, far more often, very little at all. [“The Real Price of Gold,”  Brook Larmer, National Geographic Magazine January 2009].

and here:

Even at showcase mines, such as Newmont Mining Corporation’s Bau Hijau operation in eastern Indonesia, where $600 million has be spent to mitigate environmental impact, there is no avoiding the brutal calculus of gold mining.  Extracting a single ounce of gold there–the amount in a typical wedding ring–requires the removal of more than 250 tons of ore…

…Nur Piah is part of that force itself.  Pulling a pink head scarf around her face, the mother of two smiles demurely as she revs the Caterpillar’s [model 793 truck, 21 feet tall, 43 feet long], 2337-horsepower engine and rumbles into the pit at Batu Hijau…

Most inhabitants of Sumbawa are farmers and fisherman who reside in wooden shacks built on stilts, their lives virtually untouched by the modern world.  But inside the gates of Batu Hijau, Newmont has carved out…an American-style suburb, where some 2,000 of the mine’s 8,000 employees live.  Along the smoothly paved streets there is a bank, an international school, even a broadcast center…Families arrive in SUVs for free-pizza night at a restaurant overlooking a lush golf course.

…Higher prices and advanced techniques enable companies to profitably mine microscopic flecks of gold; to separate gold and copper from rock at Batu Hijau, Newmont uses a finely tuned flotation technology that is nontoxic, unlike the potentially toxic cyanide “heap leaching” the company uses in some of its other mines.  Even so, no technology can make the massive waste generated by mining magically disappear.  It takes less than 16 hours to accumulate more tons of waster here than all of the tons of gold mined in human history.

 

…Nur Piah is focused more on the present than the future…Her husband makes some money as a timber trader bu Nur Piah’s salary–about $650 month–paid for their two story concrete home.  As if in tribute, she has hung on one wall a large painting of the yellow Caterpillar 793.[Larmer]

and here:

Rosemery Sanchez Condori is just nine years old, but the backs of her hands are burnished like aged leather.  That’s what happens what a girl spends time pounding rocks under the Andean sun.  Ever since Rosemery’s father fell ill in the mines of La Rinconada eight years ago, her mother has worked 11 hour days collecting rocks near the mines and hammering them into smaller bits to find flecks of overlooked gold.  On school holidays, Rosemery sometimes helps her mother on the mountain….

In small scale mines around the globe, searching for gold is a family affair.  Of the world’s 12 to 15 million artisanal gold miners, an estimated 30 percent are women and children…

…Remote and inhospitable…. [La Rinconada] is, nevertheless growing at a furious pace… a visitor first sees the glint of the rooftops under the magnificent glacier….Then comes the stench.  It’s not just the garbage dumped down the slope, but the human and industrial waste that clogs the settlement’s streets.  For all its growth–the number of mines perforating the glacier has jumped in six years from 50 to around 250–La Rinconada  has few basic services: no plumbing, no sanitation, no pollution control, no postal service, not even a police station.  The nearest one, with a handful of cops, is an hour down the mountain.  This is a place that operates, quite literally, above the law.

La Rinconada’s frenzied expansion has been fueled by the convergence of rising gold prices and, in 2002, the arrival of electricity.  Miners use pneumatic drills now with their hammers and chisels.  Traditional leg-driven rock grinders have given way to small electric mills.  Electricity hasn’t made mining any cleaner; if anything mercury and other toxic material are being released into the environment more rapidly than ever before.  But nearly everyone agrees that La Rinconada has never produced so much gold. 

Many miners at La Rinconada don’t officially exist, either.  There are no payrolls–just those bags of rocks–and some mine operators don’t even bother writing down workers’ names…The manager at one of La Rinconada’s larger operations says his mine yields 50 kilos every three months– more than $5 million worth of gold each year.  His workers, on their monthly cachorreo, each pull in an average of about ten grams of gold, or around $3000 a year.

…In small-scale gold mining, UNIDO estimates two to five grams of mercury are released into the environment for every gram of gold recovered…According to Peruvian environmentalists, the mercury released at La Rinconada and the nearby mining town of Ananea is contaminating rivers and lakes down to the coast of Lake Titicaca, more than a hundred miles away. [Larmer]

VI.  Some things that might reflect on overproduction, circulation, time of circulation, profitability and disproportion are here:

The accumulation of capital is the conversion of the appropriated surplus value into the conditions of future labor– which is to say the capitalization of profit as the means and material of production, which is to say the realization of the value encapsulated in those molecules of capital called commodities as money and the conversion of additional living labor into objectified labor through the exchange with money.  The market for the commodity is all other commodities

Capital realizes itself as capital only by the reengaging of wage labor.  However it can only achieve this realization through the exchange of all capitals, with the products of other capitals.  This not just and not simply a metamorphosis of capital, a change in form.  Rather, the change in form is a validation of any individual capital’s viability.  And more.  The metamorphosis is a process of distribution; it is an allocation of the total social surplus value to particular capitals according to the efficiency and the size of the capitals employed.

This is the process that establishes an average rate of profit, and not just.  It is the means whereby capital reproduces itself as a whole simultaneously with and at the expense of the reproduction of its constituent parts, its individual capitals.  At one and the same time, capital can only realize itself through the reproduction of all capitals while each capital achieves its share of  that reproduction– profit– through the exclusion of portions of other capitals.  Reproduction and devaluation, exchange and exclusion are the determinants and the negations of capital.

It is in this process, this circuit of capital, that capital, all capital, sees its own realization as an obstruction, an obstacle, a barrier to the expropriation of surplus labor-time, to surplus value. Circulation time, the time it takes to transform the commodity into money, is the time that is not, or not yet, money.  It is non-production time, and as such, in the attempt to reduce circulation time, every capital tends to overproduction, pushing more commodities into the markets to realize some portion of surplus value, quickly enough, to sustain more production.  As a consequence, equilibrium, proportion, balance, are conspicuous only in their necessary absence.  Equilibrium, proportion, balance may in fact occur, but only by chance, just as a commodity’s value and price may coincide.  Imbalance, disproportion, lack of equilibrium are essential to the reproduction of capital.

Reductions in the circulation time of commodities through improved transportation of the physical commodities into the networks of exchange is accompanied by improved networks for transmitting the abstraction of the commodity, its value, through these networks– through the development of the instruments of credit.   

The capitalist credit system specifically comes into being as a result of the separation, the differential, the conflict between production time and circulation time.  This system specifically does not come into being as a means of swindle or looting.  The credit system is not the result of capital’s self-devalorization.   Origin and function are one, and that one is to quicken the metamorphosis of capital into the money form, even at a discount, especially at a discount, as the discount can be offset, so every capitalist thinks, is compelled to think, by the increased production that has been already compelled by the each previous recapitalization of the extruded surplus-value. 

Next:  Part 2,  A Study of Railroads

S. Artesian

April 27, 2013