Saturday, 12 December 2015

Capital III, Chapter 20 - Part 4

In previous modes of production, in the same way that money acts as the intermediating force between the exchange of two commodities, the products of two different producers, C – M – C, so acts the merchant capitalist. The merchant buys from one producer, handing over money in exchange, and sells to another producer, obtaining money back. The goal being to obtain a greater sum of money in the second operation than advanced in the first. It is this that gives the money in the hands of the merchant the character of money-capital.

The merchant is able to perform these functions irrespective of the nature of the producers on either extreme of this process. The producer from whom the merchant buys may be a slave-owner, whilst the producer to whom the merchant sells may be some oriental potentate. It is this which gives the merchant capital its character as independent of the particular mode of production.

However, the function of the merchant capital, in all these instances, because of the competition between merchants, and the need of each merchant to make profits, is to transform the value inherent within the products they buy and sell, which is determined by the average labour-time required for its production, and to make this value increasingly visible as a characteristic of the product, as it becomes transformed into a commodity.

By increasingly transforming production into the production of exchange values, rather than use values, merchant capital thereby creates the conditions for capital to also invade the two extremes of the process of exchange itself, i.e. to transform production into capitalist production. To this extent, merchant capital performs an historically progressive role. Yet, the historical process by which this arises appears far from progressive. The immediate effect of merchant capital on these existing modes of production is to dissolve them.

“In the ancient world the effect of commerce and the development of merchant's capital always resulted in a slave economy; depending on the point of departure, only in the transformation of patriarchal slave system devoted to the production of immediate means of subsistence into one devoted to the production of surplus-value.” (p 332)

In the Mediterranean city states, the rapaciousness of merchant capitalists, symbolised in Shakespeare's “Merchant of Venice”, so drained value from the nascent bourgeois producers that not only did they absorb all of the surplus value, but they drove the peasant producers to a stage where they could not even sell their commodities at prices that would reproduce their own labour-power.

It is this ability of merchant capital, as an independent force, that amasses the greatest hoards of money, in these conditions, where production is undeveloped, that leads, as Marx says, to slavery. The independent producer is increasingly degraded to a condition where they are unable even to reproduce their own labour-power. As with the story of Joseph and the Pharaoh, in the Bible, in order to survive, these independent producers are then led to acquire the means of subsistence by selling off their daughters and their wives, and then their sons into servitude, until eventually, having sold off their land, the only thing left to sell is themselves.

Whatever undeveloped form of production it encounters, this is the condition that merchant capital drives towards. And then the slave-owners themselves, to meet their various needs, are led to use the slaves, not for the production of use values, for their own consumption, but of exchange values, in order to be able to obtain luxuries.

The slaves themselves, as Marx describes in the Grundrisse, do not produce new value, in the way that the free labour of the primitive commune, the peasant producer, or the wage worker does. The slave is no different than a pack animal, in this respect. They only transfer value like any other piece of constant capital.

“In production based on slavery, as well as in patriarchal agriculture…..the slave does not come into consideration as engaged in exchange at all.” (Grundrisse, p 419)


“... in the relations of slavery and serfdom….The slave stands in no relation whatsoever to the objective conditions of his labour; rather, labour itself, both in the form of the slave and in that of the serf, is classified as an inorganic condition of production along with other natural beings, such as cattle, as an accessory of the earth.” (Grundrisse, p 489)

But, the slave does produce a surplus product, just as does the primitive commune and the peasant producer. And, this surplus product has a value, which in this sense only constitutes a surplus value, and a surplus value that can be appropriated by the merchant capital via unequal exchange. Merchant capital is then ideally placed to form a symbiotic relation with the feudal aristocracy to create the mercantilist system that arises as a transitional stage between feudalism and capitalism.

Back To Part 3

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