Sunday, 15 December 2019

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Addenda - Part 5

In place of a machine acting as loanable capital, its place can be taken by money. Money likewise only becomes money-capital when it is metamorphosed into productive-capital, or, in the case of the merchant capitalist, into commodity-capital. Money, in whoever's hands it resides, is only money, the general commodity, able to be exchanged for other commodities of equal value. It only becomes money-capital if it is used to buy machines to be used capitalistically, or materials, or labour-power. As such, like the owner of the machine, the owner of money can lend out its use value as capital, to be able to produce the average rate of profit, and thereby to charge interest on it. 

“Interest-bearing capital is the consummate automatic fetish, the self-expanding value, the money-making money, and in this form it no longer bears any trace of its origin. The social relation is consummated as a relation of things (money, commodities) to themselves.” (p 455) 

The appearance is then that money simply begets money, and is even more fetishised in the magical properties of compounding, upon which all asset price bubbles are ultimately based. The money-capital simply appears to produce interest, in the same way that a pear tree produces pears. All trace of the fact that this interest is only possible because industrial capital produces profits, which is itself derivative of the fact that variable-capital produces surplus value, is lost. In fact, as Marx described in Capital III, the bankers, and therefrom the bourgeois theorists, come to view only this interest-bearing money-capital as real capital, with the actual functioning capitalists being reduced only to the status of skilled wage workers. 

“It is therefore especially in this form that capital is imagined. It is capital par excellence.” (p 455) 

The payment of this interest only arises because the owners of loanable money-capital exist as a separate group of capitalists, just as the owners of landed property are able to obtain rent. The capitalist farmer must use land, and, thereby, has to pay rent to the landlord, even though land has no value, and contributes nothing to the value of output. The industrial capitalist, to the extent they do not own money-capital themselves – or enough of it to finance their accumulation of capital – must borrow it from the owners of such money-capital, and, thereby, in like manner, must give up a portion of their profit as interest. 

But, as the Ricardians realised, the actual landlord fulfilled no essential social function. If all land were nationalised, then it could be rented out to farmers and the rents collected by the state, instead of financing the lavish lifestyles of the landed gentry, could instead reduce taxes, and thereby facilitate capital accumulation. The same applies to the owners of loanable money-capital. A National Bank could provide all of the money-capital that industrial capital requires. The interest received on its loans would likewise reduce the state's requirement to levy taxes, and so the surplus-value thereby released would then go to enable capital accumulation rather than financing the lavish lifestyles of the rentier capitalists, the shareholders and coupon-clippers, and their entourage amongst the armies of brokers, stock-jobbers, and so on who, like the landlords, also no longer perform any useful social function. 

“It is thus clear why superficial criticism—in exactly the same way as it wants to maintain commodities and combats money—now turns its wisdom and reforming zeal against interest-bearing capital without touching upon real capitalist production, but merely attacking one of its consequences. This polemic against interest-bearing capital, undertaken from the standpoint of capitalist production, a polemic which today parades as “socialism”, occurs, incidentally, as a phase in the development of capital itself, for example, in the seventeenth century, when the industrial capitalist had to assert himself against the old-fashioned usurer who, at that time, still [confronted] him as a superior power.” (p 456) 

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