Sunday, 5 August 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 17 - Part 38

But, there is one thing arising from distinctions made by Ricardo's followers. By distinguishing between commodities (including money that they also consider a commodity) and capital, they also recognise “that the producers confront one another not purely as owners of commodities, but as capitalists.” (p 499)

Whether, as with Wilson, they explain the crisis as an overabundance of fixed or circulating capital, the fact is that these are comprised of commodities. The fixed capital comprises buildings, machines etc., whilst the circulating capital is comprised of materials of various kinds and labour-power. The advance consists in that, in considering these as capital, rather than simply as commodities, there is an acceptance of the idea that the crisis resides precisely in the fact that these items cannot act as capital, i.e. as self-expanding value, as opposed to continuing to act as a commodity or use value.

A machine, as a commodity, or use value, could continue to operate as a machine, as much as previously. It only ceases to be able to be used as capital, because its use no longer creates profit. The overproduction of commodities is rarely an overproduction of them as use values – because there is nearly always someone who could use such commodities, or indeed buy them, if their price was low enough. But, it is precisely in this latter point that their overproduction as capital – commodity-capital – resides. They could be sold, if their price was low enough, but as was seen earlier, in Section 6, it is precisely when this market price falls to this low enough level, where they can be sold, that they cease acting as capital. This low enough price for them to be sold is too low to be able to reproduce the capital consumed in their production, so that the process of social reproduction breaks down.

As Marx puts it later,

“The market can absorb a larger volume of commodities at falling prices, at prices which have fallen below their cost-prices, than it could absorb at their former prices. The excess of commodities is always relative; in other words it is an excess at particular prices. The prices at which the commodities are then absorbed are ruinous for the producer or merchant.” (p 505)

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