Chapter 10 Production

In: The Spectre of Capital: Idea and Reality
Christopher J. Arthur
Search for other papers by Christopher J. Arthur in
Current site
Google Scholar
Open Access

§5 Capital in Production

In the previous section of this Division, I discussed capital in circulation (§4). Now, in this second section I address the very heart of the process of valorisation, capital in the production process, producing above all itself (as a capital relation we shall see) (§5). The third section will treat reproduction, namely the unity of circulation and production (§6).

In Division I, valorisation, and accumulation, I treated in terms of the completely simple and abstract notion of a ‘monetary increment’. This chapter demonstrates how it is ‘produced’, and therewith makes possible ‘surplus value’.

‘Capital in production’ is the category that traces how industrial capital, complete with its unfolding in time, appropriates the material metabolism of the economy. This it assimilates to its own life. In particular it is central to the constitution of capital that it subsume the labour process.

The category ‘capital in production’ divides into the following moments. §51 Industrial Capital in Its Notion: Genesis of Value in ‘Time’ (Production) and ‘Space’ (Exchange); §52 The Capital Relation Proper: the constitution of capital is grounded in a dialectic of negativity; here then production is studied in its moment of ‘difference’, in which capital constitutes itself only as it is mediated in otherness (especially in living labour); §53 Self-Valorisation of Capital: the genesis of surplus value lies in value-formed surplus labour; here we take the concept of capital as already constituted through the above movements of time and negativity. Taking capital as winning the struggle at the point of production, we show how a surplus value emerges.

§51 Industrial Capital in Its Notion: Genesis of Value in Time (of Production) and Space (of Exchange)

I developed the Idea of capital so far by starting from the claim that value is rooted in the negativity of its relation to use-value, that it is not-use-value. It posits itself as an ideal sphere against its material bearers in commodities. But this presupposes there are commodities to support it. Thus it is not self-grounded. For capital to be its own ground, then, requires that it produce those commodities it originally distanced itself from. But, if we retain the idea that there is not an atom of matter in value, it is unclear what commodity production can produce other than the very materiality of these commodities.

How could value be produced? It certainly cannot be in the same sense as the use-values are produced. However, if capital is positing itself as the originator of the values it rests upon, then the only way of giving this notion determinacy is if commodity production is taken in opposition to itself, as the mere carrier of the ideal movement of capital. Thus I take this movement as the simple activity of positing value; and its determinate being is found in the time of that very movement as its necessary basis.

It is important that, in line with my method of exposition, I began with the synchronic value relations of commodity equivalents; yet to ground the diachronic actualisation of value we turn now to the time of capital, specifically as it is found to take a definite time to produce commodities. The value of these commodities then gains actuality on the market as the various times of capital are commensurated synchronously with each other in the ‘space’ of exchange and circulation.

Remark Here logical ‘space’, i.e. the notion that a set of values are synchronous, thus relatable in this mode, is distinguished from the geographical space articulated by distance. (Note that throughout this book I set aside rent, which is logically tied to space, and to economies of space, since I hold that it is parasitic on capitalist industry.)

The immanent dimension of value is time existent in the process of ‘positing’ new ‘value added’. Value added defines itself through a necessary relation to how it came to be, with reference to time that has passed. This introduces a deeper dimension of time than we saw in circulation; for its coming to be exemplifies that of duration. (Here capitalist production is taken as a process within the pure time of capital, reference to labour time being held over to the section on the constitution of capital through the capital relation proper. There I discuss the consequences for the labour process of its subsumption under the valorisation process (§52).)

So in this section production is treated ‘in its Notion’, i.e. as a purely formal matter. First we trace that inversion whereby, when capital produces a material product, it generates value only as the production time is absented in favour of its logical equivalent, namely that of the positing of value.

At this level of concretion (that of Division II) the figure of ‘positing’ is itself more concrete than it is in Division I. There the relation of positing is merely formal. Now it occurs in the world of space and time; new value is objectively presented as a result of the movement of valorisation. This requires that its carrier, namely the material process of production, generates a surplus product, which is then imputed with new value. Hence capital accumulates in real time, whereas in Division I we have merely the level of its logical potential. There is here a ‘concrete positing’, as opposed to a simply formal one.

Immediately time is a simple dimension within which circulation takes place. Even with accumulation, as a process of ontological casting measured across a time interval, this is still a fold of ‘real’ time, time within which it occurs. Capital moves from time to time as a pure becoming, reflected into itself as a rate of accumulation. Now, however, the time of production makes of capital a peculiar ontological being in that in its very essence it is constituted by a transformation of time into ‘space’ of exchange, I shall explain. There is a metaphysical transition in the genesis of value from the time of value positing to the space of co-determinant posited values.

I said earlier that value as an immanence has no metric until the latter is brought into existence by money. Here I stress that the process of positing value is again mere immanence. Albeit known to be a process taking time, it lacks the determinacy of magnitude until this immanent time is retroactively imputed, when the synchronic determination of values on the market is achieved. It is only the setting of an equivalence relation between putative values that gives reality to such a comparison.

The act of positing value results in its own fixity in the resulting value. This result must have a material product to inhabit, but what counts is its social form as value, hence absenting its determinate material features and reducing it to nothing more than the result of activity. Thus the value ‘substance’ is nothing other than the condensation of the activity that posited the commodity as a value. If the relevant time dimension of value positing is pure duration, value is the crystal of the time that elapsed during the process of positing value. This elapsed time is not immediately value. The immanent diachronic dimension is transformed into value with determinate magnitude only through its commensuration with other such times in the space of exchange. ‘Time’ turns to ‘Space’ in the synchronic relation of commodities.

When the becoming of value comes to rest in a result, namely a marketable commodity, value is posited. The resulting value is simply what has become from the unrest of its becoming, its conclusion in finite determination, abstracted from its contingent use-value support.

However, this raises the question of how exactly to connect categorially the value endorsed in exchange with the positing of value as result of production. There is an inflexion of this category to be noted; originally when discussing the ‘becoming’ of value in the space of exchange, its inner moments were identified as ‘Being’ and ‘Nothing’. Now, as already something, value is grappling with the sphere of its non-being, the domain of production as a real process of determinate transformation of use-values. ‘Being’ faces its non-being and must internalise it. This more concrete level of ‘becoming’ is an unstable unity of ‘being’ and ‘non-being’. (On non-being see Chapter 5. Here it refers to the sphere in which capital is not.)

The only possible result of the passing of time (distinct from production in time) is the time that passed, totalised at the ‘Schrödinger’ point of intersection with another process of passing time, registered synchronically as the value relation. Dialectically, the ‘being’ of value becomes determinate only in its ‘being-for-another’, only in the encounter of one commodity with others that recognise it as valid. The shock of the encounter transforms the indeterminacy of time immanent to a determinate magnitude of value. So the truth of value requires both dimensions, diachronic and synchronic.

The elapsed time is not the immediate time of production, as this process occurs in time. For the material production process is determined ideally as the trace time-passing leaves in the world. This socio-historically specific shape of time is ‘empty time’, unqualified by any natural rhythms, because the force of abstraction is a practical reality. The time the process takes becomes fixed as the time taken.

Nothing is in truth produced (other than the materiality of use-value) when value positing takes the shape of the pure form of activity. But how can there be ‘plenty of nothing’? This raises the issue of determining the magnitude of value. What is the immanent determinant of the magnitude measured in money terms? The answer is that this ‘nothing’ is a determinate nothingness resulting from the passing into fixity of the restless process of its becoming, a cessation that sublates its origin. It preserves the process in the product as a definite magnitude. The only measure of such activity is the time it goes on for.

However, if we have as the result of time passing only a spectral ‘body of work’, it can be measured only through the peculiar immaterial dimensionality of money. The dimensionality of the source (time) is simply given a different categorial status in the produced commodity as finite result of so much time that has passed. A crystal of precipitated time, the fixing of time passed, is the magnitude measured in money.

So value is not made out of something other than itself, but it comes from itself in motion to itself then taken in fixity. Qua process, its magnitude is time but, posited in a determinate relation to other such times, through the mediation of money, elapsed time appears as the immanent determinant of the value measured in money.

The reason for this is that in this commensuration the concrete heterogeneity of the processes of production, as capital moves in matter, are sublated; only abstract time is considered. Concrete time is measurable extended time as it is determined by concrete processes, such as the time it takes to produce a commodity. However, all such concrete times sink into abstract time, the pure time of capital. Thus the space of synchronicity concretises time because only when the specific times are brought into relation systemically are they socially actualised as values.

Remark Production time is subject to relativisation in which labour time measured by the clock is only one parameter influencing capital’s time, which imposes a set of times relative to the mass of capital that turns over. (This I argue later: §82.3.) So-called ‘turnover time’ abstractly considered is clock time similar to circulation time narrowly considered, and it is relevant to the rate of profit.

The importance of my account is that it avoids both the simple identity of value and time, which might involve absurdities such as ‘the measure of value is time’, or ‘the measure of time is money’, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, an external quasi-causal determination of value by time.

Because it is capital that brings commodities into relation, and capital that commensurates them, it is capital’s time that counts. Capital having sunk into production, the time of production is the time of capital. Capital is not primarily interested in the particularities of the determinate transformation of material, only in the reproduction of value. In this commensuration the concrete heterogeneity of the processes of production, as capital moves in matter, is sublated; only abstract time is considered.

The difficult problem is to understand production as at once a material process and the bearer of value in motion. At the level of the production of real being, use-value undergoes a determinate transformation from raw material to goods, mediated by concrete labour. When we examine a product, we may judge that ‘a lot of work has gone into it’; but such work is generalised concrete labour evident in the carving, polishing, etc.

Now the absolute negativity of capital takes this within its grasp such that all productive activity is reduced to the bearer of the abstract activity of transformation, namely negating of use-value. While capital produces a material product, it generates value only if its production time is absented in favour of its logical equivalent, namely that of the positing of value.

Remark The logic of capital generally treats the forms generated in accordance with their purely logical status. Here the activity of capitalist production is the carrier of value in process. So complementary to the material production is the value posited along with it. The process of production carries that of the positing of value.

The time of capital in its fluid form is pure immanence, a process which fixes itself in its result, retrospectively making itself present in this dialectic of fluidity and fixity.

But, if value is time condensed to a spectral objectivity, then from the perspective of this result, time passing is the activity of a spectral ‘subjectivity’. The time that passed in the production process, the time it takes, is now posited retrospectively by the spectre of capital as the time it took. The former is folded into the latter. Value then exists in two states, when the fluid form is posited retrospectively by capital as the subjective source of what is then present as a phantom objectivity.

This makes it seem that mere time passing is ‘production of value’, and thus to think ‘waiting’ is the source of profit. But, interpreted as the time capital is necessarily tied up in production, we see the objective validity of the fetish-character of such a movement of time. Time is not what value is ‘made of’ because this suggests a relatively external relation of form and matter (e.g. ‘the statue is made of marble’). Rather value is time in a transformed shape, crystallised rather than fluid.

It is not quite correct to say that value has ‘two measures’, the immanent, time, and the external, money.1 Time is certainly an immanent determinant of value; but this determinacy is merely notional because, as immanence, value lacks determinate magnitude until the money measure forms it, and posits the time taken in the context of systemically determined value measures.

Time itself cannot ‘produce’ anything of course; but it counts as the value ‘substance’, once the produced commodity is granted the form-determination of value. In this context, value is grasped as the reification of time. The time that passed in the production process, the time it takes, is now posited in value retrospectively as the time it took. Time takes frozen shape, a phantom like substance, invisible except in its avatar, money.

Time disassociated from all concrete processes of valorisation appears as a ‘flat’ mundane dimension within which these processes go on and serves to commensurate them, subject to the requirement that the time be validated as socially necessary. Valorised value makes itself present as summing the time that passed in accordance with its own protocols (i.e. the clock times are recalibrated when validated to a greater or lesser extent). Time lies immanent in value but appears in sublated form. What is an external quasi-causal determinant of value is the specific times of production conditioned by the mix of labour and means of production that every product embodies. However, these times have to be transformed into times that capital counts as ‘necessary’.

The intersection then of time of production and space of exchange results in the creation of a special immaterial entity posited by its pure becoming. This spectral ‘substance’ is a presencing of time passed.

Remark Marx made a mistake when he said somewhere that all economy is ‘economy of time’. This is so only from our modern perspective. In pre-capitalist society time was not an issue, precisely because it cost nothing (and in any case it was dictated by natural cycles). As for post-capitalist economy: it is clear now that economising on scarce resources will be prioritised over economy of time, even were that to be time for the free development of the individual.

§52 The Capital Relation Proper

Now we consider how capital is itself produced through the mediation of the labour process. Here it is important that living labour is an input that is not produced by capital; so I now come to the second great turning point in my presentation. At first labour was set aside on the ground that the value form abstracted from use-value consideration, in particular from the origin of the traded commodities. Now we bring labour into the presentation, for capitalist industry relies upon it. The reason it marks a turning point is that living labour comes from ‘outside’ capital; yet it is an essential condition of existence of capital. However, capital posits this condition of existence as its presupposition when it reproduces the capital relation in its movement. Moreover, when employed by capital, living labour is unable to function outside it; for the production process itself is now dominated by its service to capital; it is now a capitalist production process.

This raises the vexed question of the application of the categories ‘form’ and ‘content’ here (see Glossary for the three senses of ‘form’ used in this book). In what sense is there a ‘fit’ between the ideal and material sides of the economic order? It seems that to begin with all use-value considerations are mere ‘matter’ in the abstract to be idealised: the value form cannot know the things themselves. (Here it must rely on its character mask: the capitalist.) Because the material reality of production is given to capital rather than created by it, capital has to transform this material into a suitable shape more or less adequate to it; this I call the ‘formal determination’ of production as capitalist.

Within the value form there is a puzzling antinomy. On the one hand, it is clear that without money there is no value; commodities as such face each other as use-values merely. On the other hand, given that a basic function of money is that of measure of value, there must be an immanent value magnitude to be measured, which seems to presuppose that value exists prior to money. The first alternative opens the door to purely market determinations. The second alternative leads straight to a naturalism of value with money as a mere veil of the essential relations. My solution to this antithesis is first to derive money as pure form, presupposing but not positing a determinate content, and then to show how the dialectic of the ideal form itself demands a certain material basis in labour time. The separation of the treatment of form from that of its appropriate ‘content’ might seem strange or even misguided. However, not only is it possible, it is itself a reflection of reality. In the case of value, ideal form and real content are actual only in an unhappy combination. This is because the ideality of the value form is alien to the material inscribed within it. Although they are interpenetrating opposites, and mutually condition each other, they are never harmoniously unified but are always in tension. Moreover, it would be impossible to start with labour and show that exchange and circulation are forms of labour. But it is possible to develop the value form to the point at which one can see capital must appropriate productive labour.

In my preliminary considerations (i.e. in Part 1), I show that the peculiar form of social synthesis of dissociated production founds a dialectic of pure form estranged from social labour. This must first be treated in its own terms, while bracketing for a while the separation of ideality and materiality.

So now I continue the systematic development of the Idea of capital by addressing the dependence of capital on labour. Indeed, I shall argue that capital’s very constitution lies in this relation and its contradictory form. Throughout this section I assume the immediate identity of capital’s time with production time, and of the latter with labour time. (Later the relevant distinctions will be drawn.)

To begin with, the famous category of ‘abstract labour’ will be problematised. Insofar as labour time is reduced to pure time (of capital) all its materiality is absented, labour therewith being counted as an abstraction of itself. Then, in order for capital to move freely in the production process, it must secure the real subsumption of living labour. Here living labour is posited as the use-value of capital. Then the ‘labour theory of value’ will be reinterpreted as a case of capital realising itself through otherness, because living labour is potentially recalcitrant to its exploitation for capital’s purposes. Through the negating of living labour the constitution of capital is actualised only through the negation of this its negation. Capital, apparently self-valorising, is grounded on a dialectic of negativity, wage labour being in and against capital. Thus living labour realises itself only as its opposite, the ‘non-being’ of labour, that is to say, the ‘being’ of capital. It is alienated labour. Hence the capital relation is the contradictory unity in otherness of capital and labour.

In review, I treat now the following:

§52.1 ‘Abstract’ Labour

§52.2 Formal and Real Subsumption of Labour

§52.3 Constitution of Capital in a Dialectic of Negativity

§52.1 ‘Abstract’ Labour

New value cannot be generated all at once, but takes time, because living labour takes time to produce what has value, as distinct from value itself. I argue that capital abstracts from living labour so as to leave only the pure activity of value-positing. The form of ‘abstract labour’ arises through the reflection on the labour process of the unity of production established by capital on the ground of pure time.

As it is inseparable from the movement of capital itself, living labour is therefore determined as the carrier of the time of value-positing. Just as the useful character of the commodity is abstracted from in the resulting value, so must the labour that produced it be abstracted from. Labour enters into value not as abstract labour, but rather as its concrete reality is abstracted from. The value form is imposed on living labours as an alien universal, identifying them against their reality as concrete, rather than elucidating a generality they already have.

Earlier I theorised the infinitely negative judgement on the exchangeable commodity that resulted in a pure singularity awaiting social determination as the bearer of value. When value totalises all commodities in the form of an abstract identity, even though they differ materially, use-value is sublated, that is, both preserved and negated. Now I show that the infinitely negative judgement on their production results in the movement of empty time borne by its carrier, labour.

There is a clear parallel here between the timeless positing of the spectral body of the commodity, as the bearer of value, and the positing of the spectral movement of value positing, taking the labour process as its carrier. All the material characteristics of concrete labour (including expenditure of energy) are absented so as to leave the pure act of positing (the ideal equivalent of producing). The result of this Becoming is the pure Being of value, incarnate in the commodity; but this is more concretely posited as what has become in the reality of space and time. The production process counts as pure activity, hence a movement in pure time, which, through an ideal inversion, shapes every real time in ways yet to be determined.

In the production process, labour is not regarded under its specific useful forms, but it is posited as an abstract activity. Thus, even though all real labour is particular in its action, here indifference towards the specific content of labour is not merely an abstraction made by theory, it is effectively made by capital. What really moves is always a concrete material process, yet this is determined as the carrier of the ideal logical movement of capital.

All the material differences of labour are absorbed in the homogeneity of the valorisation process, and this posits the labour process virtually as a universal production process carried out by undifferentiated human labour. The absenting of the concrete determinacy of labour leaves an abstract residue, namely time passing. It is not at all obvious that labour as such should be measured by its duration; but it is necessary that pure activity exists solely in the dimension of pure time. It is not that in exchange labours are commensurated under their common property of taking time. It is capital that commensurates its time. Nonetheless, because labour time is inseparable from the genesis of commodities, capital in its time of passage rests upon that of labour.

It is a mistake to think that abstract labour can be effective only if it is identified with a material universal such as physiological work. Rather, the abstract ‘concept’ of labour is precisely what is posited as actual by capital ideally. The practical abstraction absents all labour qualities including expenditure of effort, to leave pure activity. Since it is internal to the value form, abstract labour cannot be its given presupposition; rather it is capital that form-determines living labour only as an abstraction of itself. This objective hypostatisation is made real when capital presents abstract labour as if it were the basis of the universality of value; but it is the result of abstraction by the value form. Nonetheless capital’s universal interest in economising on its time requires its representative, the manager, to engage with concrete labour because only the latter may be minimised in various ways. So time counts doubly; as concrete in the real labour of the production process; and abstract as a carrier of the ideal movement of capital’s self-valorisation.

Yet, if we consider the collective labourer, the sum of labours making up the collectivity seems a false aggregate because it really exists only as a material combination of detailed labours, not just as one type of labour defined by the product. While such labours cannot be aggregated concretely in any meaningful way, capital makes this senseless aggregation ideally; and it does so under the aspect of time only, because it needs to get the commodities to market as quickly as possible. Capital must time labour, because that is central to its competition with other capitals. Capital not only posits the qualitative reduction of ‘labour’ to its abstract identity, but its quantitative reduction to simple time of production as determinant of magnitude of value. The given inputs of concrete labours are the raw data aggregated by capital to serve in the determination of value magnitudes.

It is capital that selects out time-passed as of the essence. But, immediately, it seems that development is on the side of the content in that changes in labour time feed through in a linear way to the magnitude of value. Yet, mediatedly, labour time is a determined determinant in that it is capital that continually seeks to increase the productivity of labour.

Nonetheless, the materiality of production is economically determinant. For, materially, only concrete labour is subject to reshaping. Capital cannot ‘economise’ on labour in the abstract. Only labour as concrete can be measured and minimised, and each industry has its specific way of pumping out such labour, even if ideal demands are presented to it abstractly and require concrete interpretation by managers. (The structure is tailor-made for institutional blindness: ‘Don’t tell me how you do it, just meet that order in time’.) However, ideally, the living labour capital exploits is determined as the carrier of its own predicate: the time it takes. Through this objective hypostatisation, the workers are predicated of their own predicate. Living labour provides the necessary bodily counterpart to the pure activity of value-positing under the rule of capital. But it does not ‘produce’ anything over and above the commodities that have value. The abstract act of value-positing, in production, issues in the commodity valued, in exchange, in proportion to the time of this movement. Materially the worker moves in time, but ideally time moves in them. In the valorisation process it is not that the worker takes time to produce something; rather time takes the worker as its carrier. The labour process is determined as the trace time leaves in the world. This socio-historically specific shape of time is ‘empty time’, unqualified by any natural rhythms, because the force of abstraction is a practical reality.

The spectre of capital posits itself through negating dialectically (i.e. preserving the material side within it) the realm of the real labour of production. So far from labour embodying itself in commodities and thereby constituting them as values, capital embodies itself in production, subordinates its purposes to value creation, and realises itself in the product, posited as nothing but its own result. When production is formed as production for exchange, the new product is potentially formed as value.

It seems there is nothing wrong with abstracting from the concrete character of the various material production processes as long as the abstraction is not hypostatised and said to be the real basis of the concrete, such that the concrete is then simply a body for the logic. But this mystical inversion is a reality. For there is indeed an autonomous existence of the ideal insofar as the concrete labour processes carry a distinct set of abstract determinations that posit value. Here the abstract formula of production, namely ‘positing’, is in its very abstraction a reality. A real inversion has occurred; value positing is the ‘truth’ of the labour process, and it determines the latter as the effective carrier of the valorisation process. Living labour becomes a phantom ‘labour’, and its result, value, is a phantom ‘objectivity’ borne by commodities.

If new value arises in production under the impulse of capital to valorise itself, the capitalist production process is from the start form-determined. When inputs entering production, including labour power, are commodities purchased with money capital, they are not ‘devalorised’ when they become active as material factors.

It is usual in value-form theory to say money is the measure of abstract labour. However, this requires careful explanation. After all, money is the measure of value, not of such a supposed determinant. Moreover, it is not a matter of making do with an external measure because we cannot measure directly, it is that the magnitude that is to be measured is itself indeterminate until money makes value actual and therewith determines how far the time of production counts socially. Nonetheless it seems clear that the dimension of time is the immanent determinant of value magnitudes, although the time of value positing only becomes a money magnitude in its phenomenal existence. Capital cannot compare the various times of production directly (nor labourers their ‘toil and trouble’) because the only given form of commensuration of products is in money price. The point is that the elapsed time of the production of each commodity underlies the synchronic relation. It is this transformation of process into product that gives rise to the dimensional discrepancy mentioned above. Hence there is a substantive relation between the parameters time and price. (This does not mean there is a simple linear determination of prices by labour time: see Chapter 13.)

I have introduced a peculiar refinement when reducing form-determined labour to a pure activity sublating material labour altogether. This is based on two arguments, firstly, that value is not ‘produced’ but posited by capital over the dead body of the worker’s labour; secondly, that, if the real connection of labours is solely through their inscription in the form of value, living labour is present only as negated when reduced to the mere carrier of the movement of capital, just as use-value bears value as its other. What is abstracted from is not merely the particular shapes which make labours different from each other but also the characteristics of labour that are common, such as the fact that labour is expenditure of energy; this is because the abstract act of value positing does not involve expenditure of energy, although of course producing commodities does so.

Capital in its material incarnation, e.g. the factory, confronts living labour, and it subordinates it to the aim of generating value, through appropriating the powers of labour. Labour takes a particular shape to correspond to the particular substance of which a particular capital consists materially; but since capital as such is indifferent to every particularity of its material substance; the labour capital confronts is presupposed to have this same indifference to its particularity. In sum, while only capital’s time (once transformed) is the ‘substance’ of value, as its material carrier labour time is the hypostatised truth of the aggregate of concrete labours.

I now distinguish two kinds of universal; it is important to distinguish the abstract universal, which ignores specific difference, and the concrete universal, which includes within itself its particularisations. Concrete universality expresses itself in different particularisations of the universal and they are held within it as part of its sense. Abstract universality negates particularity and covers a set of singulars taken to be identical with each other in some common respect.

Labour is certainly a concrete universal because the workers deploy the same labour power when they move fluidly from one task to another, or change occupation from tailoring to bricklaying. Moreover, the whole labour force is such a universal in which all the different workers are assigned their specific tasks, with fluidity of labour allowing their reassignments as requirements change. To be sure, retraining may be necessary, but there are no insurmountable social, or natural, barriers to the potential universality of labour. If the labour theory of value is to be operational this fluidity must be assumed. However, this has nothing to do with the notion that may be abstracted from this, that of labour as such, opposed to its concrete specificity.

In this light let us now review the determinations assumed by labour in capitalism. a) to begin with living labour takes concrete specific shapes, which differ according to the specific form of production; it is undoubtedly the case that living labour is concretely universal in being able to move fluidly between different tasks, here the universal collates the concrete not in opposition to the particular but as self-specifying in its particularisations; b) by contrast, the concrete shapes may be mentally disregarded so as to generate an abstraction, ‘labour in general’, but this is an empty universal, although within capitalism it has practical relevance for someone ‘looking for work’, any work; c) practically abstract labour differs from this last; like (b) it is opposed to specificity, but it also establishes a real connection – if only an abstract one – between labours through the mediation of the value form.

The concrete labour that produces a commodity is in fact that of the collective worker. The concrete universality of labour allows the labour force to be assigned to any array of jobs required by capital, a material multiplicity which forms the labourers as a collective worker. (This whole picture of capital and labour as an articulated whole is distinct from the expropriation of surplus labour from individual workers taken in this respect as abstractly identical for the purpose of commensurating their products.)

There is an interesting dialectic here if we attend to how this is made up of individual labours, which, when abstracted from this whole, have no meaning. It is not a social whole made up of whole individuals; rather the singulars of which it is composed are themselves merely abstract moments of it because they have no subsistence outside it. The worker is reduced to a fraction of the concrete wholeness of the labour producing the commodity when the bearer of this universality. The collective worker is like a giant machine in which each motion is parcelled out to individually detailed labours. (Conversely, a welder for example does much the same work whether in a car factory or a shipyard.) Such work is not necessarily unskilled, but its character is determined by capital, and it is unable to act outside the collectivity of labour. So here the whole is what is concrete and unifies its abstract moments. But the singulars do not in return constitute the collective as their own; rather they see it as an alien totality to which they are ‘indifferent’.

When really subsumed by capital the workers become like bees, with no necessity to understand the ultimate purpose of their activity. The only purpose of work for the labourer separated from the objectives of production is the wage; hence if this is all that counts the workers may well be indifferent to the content of their labour. However, indifference is not the definition of abstract labour; it is the consequence of the double abstraction imposed by the value form on the product and on labour power.

The determination of labours as abstract flows from the fact that their unity is objectively constituted only when so ‘conceptualised’ by capital. The reason for this is that it is capital that organises the collectivity such that, although really specifications of the concrete universal, the labours are alienated from their own sociality. As alienated from their human bearers the labours’ own universality is supplanted by capital’s universal presence.

The concrete labour producing a commodity is, then, in one sense nothing but the ‘labour’ of capital; because its production is here subordinated to the purpose of valorisation. But in a further twist this ‘concrete labour of capital’ is itself rendered abstract through the social division of labour. What is striking about the value form is that the wealth of productive power generating an enormous range of commodities is collapsed to a single result, value, imputed to a single source, abstractly identical ‘labour’.

Yet the social integration of private producers through exchange involves different determinations than those characteristic of the collective worker in the factory. The latter is organised by capital as a concrete whole of labours; but the former is predicated on an asocial sociality in which the ideal totality sublates the array of private ‘labours’ organised by capital as a system. The different capitalist production processes supporting value positing are structurally ignored for the sake of commensurating the values to be realised. While all industrial capitals are value creating, the specific forms of the pumping out of labour from the immediate producers is ignored in this abstract universality which registers them all as homogenous with one another.

However, social labour is the suppressed precondition of the abstract whole because capital requires this concrete universal if it is to allocate and regulate labour as required, not only in the factory, but across the economy. Indeed, the social division of labour, and the possibility of its redrawing, is a precondition of capitalist production. It depends on a concretely universal form of labour able to transfer easily between different occupations and tasks, unconstrained by natural scarcity of talent, or social barriers to mobility. It may well be that the concrete universality of social labour is a necessary precondition for the positing of abstract labour but it is not to be identified with it. (But this social totality of labour never exists immediately, because the totalisation is effected by capital, which reduces concrete labours to moments of its totalising drive.)

So it is important that labour can really transform its expression from one concrete labour to another, and that such supplies of labour power are readily available to capital. Here the stress is not on the reduction of the concrete to the same featureless abstraction, but, to the contrary, on the wealth of different forms taken by labour as a universal activity. This brings out that here labour is a concrete universal. But this has to do with its productive power in relation to use-value. However, it is a separate point that, when concrete labours realise themselves as use-value, simultaneously capital posits their product as value. They do not do this themselves; they simply carry out this alien intention.

This social abstraction has actuality only on the assumption that the products concerned are products of capital. As a result of the social equivalence of commodities established in capitalist competition, the labours are socially related only through the value form of the product, which results in the absenting of all characteristics of living labour. The labour process, in the absence of such concrete determinations as make it labour, is simply a spectral movement, once capital has formed it as a valorisation process, expressed as such only in objective form. But this is a spectral objectivity. Value is a spectral substance which inhabits commodities and money, but absents their materiality so as to give the ideal substance a ‘body’, but a spectral body since it is dematerialised.

Value-in-process is carried by the labour process; but, when the unity established in capital’s time is reflected onto the labour process as if that were its ground, it appears as if the material labour underpinning value positing is labour in the abstract i.e. hypostatised as such. But this is an ideal imputation; and because value can only be generated along with the commodity that bears this social imputation it is easy to conflate the ideal social process with the material production process.

Thus the process of production of capital might not be distinguished from the material process of production in general. The determinateness of its form is then extinguished. The upshot is that the material process of production in its immediacy appears as ‘the self-moving content of capital’. Capital, as absolute form of value, determines everything inscribed within it as its own; but having taken possession of labour it can absent itself and make its avatar do all the work.

Because labour serves as carrier of value-positing it seems as if work as such is immediately ‘productive’ of value, and as if then value were a ‘product’ of labour like use-value. Since practically abstract labour has only a spectral existence it is easily confused with more real generalities such as expenditure of energy. The result is that such a general form of labour is fetishised as if it produced value.

An abstract concept of labour ignores as irrelevant to value theory the kinds of labour and the person whose labour it is (however relevant this is to – say – works of art). This is not the same as a concept of abstract labour, which presupposes that the predicate has an ontological bearing on the labour itself, not just how it counts for thought. Since all labour is necessarily concrete (one cannot just ‘work’ without doing something specific) to operate this imputation of abstract, as opposed to concrete, labour, it must be socially produced as an objectively valid determination.

However, to treat the abstract concept as substantial is to commit the fallacy of hypostatisation because it seems that labour is necessarily always concrete. The answer to this puzzle is that labour-in-general is practically hypostatised through the equivalence established between its products in the value form. Hence it is posited as the genuine substance of the concrete specific labours. If such a hypostatisation of the abstract concept of labour is objectively present, it appears as valid to say that its bearers, the real labours, actively ‘produce’ value along with use-value. It is this conflation that causes confusion.

Remark Riccardo Bellofiore has underlined in many places that labour is the victim of a triple hypostatisation. He argues that: in the final commodity market objectified labour as a real hypostasis is predicated on the exchange abstraction; in the initial labour market labour power is subject to a real hypostatisation process through which the worker becomes the predicate of their own capacity to work; and in the centre of the valorisation process living labour is ‘other-directed’ work where the real hypostatisation is that the worker becomes the predicate of the time of their own labour.2

A common version of the labour theory of value relates value to ‘abstract labour’, with ‘concrete labour’ assigned to that required by the specificity of use-value. In order to avoid the charge that this abstraction is as empty as ‘utility’, it is said that it is not a mental fiction because it actually exists in the physical expenditure of energy common to all work. This physiological identity of labours underpins the notion of ‘embodied labour’ evidently. But this is a naturalistic metaphysics lacking the socio-historical determinacy of capitalism. The naturalistic view that each hour of ‘embodied labour’ is value fails to see that value is a social form and that it is this social determination that reduces labour to an abstraction of itself, to elapsed time.

It might be thought that if ‘abstract labour’ is a shape generated by capital, then it is unreal, merely a ‘shadow’ cast by capital. ‘Utility’ is just such a shadow-form cast by the value form.3 Because two baskets of groceries have the same price it is fallaciously assumed that they must contain something identical reflected in the equal prices. It is termed ‘utility’; yet this is a metaphysical construct with no effective reality. But is the ‘abstract labour’ embodied in the groceries equally a shadow-form of heterogeneous concrete labours, in the same way that ‘utility’ is abstracted from the ineliminable specificities of use-values?

However, the abstract ‘concept’ of labour is not just a shadow-form thrown onto the labour process by capital. For, in the case of labour, its abstractly universal determination is really posited by capital as a form of existence of labour; so it is not just a shadow-form but has effective reality as the bearer of capital’s movement, determining in this way the magnitude of value. This is possible because wage labour is not ‘outside’ capital. Once, on this basis, living labour has been internalised it appears as capital’s own use-value, although one must never lose sight of labour’s tendential resistance to exploitation. This allows us to finesse the problem that ‘abstract labour’ might be a mere ‘shadow-form’ cast by the capitalist production process.

Remark Notice the conceptual difference between our earlier discussion of abstraction in exchange and this more concrete notion of ‘abstract’ labour. ‘Utility’ is an empty abstraction; it cannot therefore support the attribution of exchange-value to commodities. So I argued that this is not a result of an abstraction of some feature of the commodity from it. Rather we argued that the form of value is a transcendental form imposed on it. ‘Labour’ is not an empty abstraction but a concrete universal form of activity capable of determining itself to specific shapes of labouring. However, in opposition to that, here we say that labour as such, abstracted from concrete labours, is posited by capital as the proximate determination to value.

Let us sum up this section on ‘abstract labour’. It has no meaningful existence (any more than ‘utility’) unless it is conceptualised as abstract by capital. It is capital, in virtue of its form as temporalised, that form-determines labour, such that it is counted simply as the carrier of time passing. In effect, everything about labour is abstracted from, leaving merely its putative measure, time, left standing as the time of value positing by capital. It is as if the collective labours are the complicated shell of a hypostatised universal substance. But this immanent time of capital becomes determinate only with the shock of the product’s encounter with other products in the socially systemic value relations.

The operational determinacy of the concept of ‘abstract labour’ requires that it be fluid enough to respond to the demands of capital. This is possible because labour itself has the character of concrete universality. However, this is not the same notion as ‘abstract labour’. which is figured as opposed to everything concrete about labour.

§52.2 Formal and Real Subsumption of Labour

The category of subsumption is central to value-form theory. On the one hand, there is the commodity manifold, which is in itself incoherent; on the other hand, there is the universal value form within which commodities become inscribed in orderly fashion, the latter are subsumed by the former.

With respect to the value form, I do not think use-values, or for that matter objectified labour, are a genuine ‘content’. In a dialectical relation of form and content not only does the form posit itself in the content but the content gains its proper existence in the form. However, when a product is inscribed within the value form this is by no means a form appropriate to it, but an alien form imposed upon it. So here ‘form’ impresses itself on what it presupposes to be a lifeless substrate; but the capitalist has to mediate this by knowing how to shape matter according to capital’s demands. This requires the real subsumption of production, not just the ‘idealising’ of matter by inscribing it in the form. This is still more the case when living labour objectifies itself in the commodity only to find itself estranged from it. Thus capital ‘takes possession’ of labour so as to subordinate it to the purpose of valorisation. Rather than a proper ‘content’, labour is the real condition of value creation.

Once really subsumed labour appears as the use-value of capital itself. Capital in its practice must concretely engage in the ‘labour of the negative’ and struggle to really subsume labour. But when it presents the commodity to exchange it represses this knowledge of its origin in blood and sweat, as if its ideality infuses its material ground with the form of pure activity. In commensurating labour, time is what capital selects as its relevant parameter; other determinations of labour (effort, fluidity, fragmentation, indifference) are cognate to this key attribute but not to be identified with it.

With the real subsumption of labour under capital there takes place a complete revolution in the relation between capitalist and worker. The social forms of their own labour are constituted quite independently of the individual workers; the workers subsumed under capital become elements of these social constructions. This is the more real the more their labour capacity is modified by these forms, so that it becomes powerless when it stands alone. Outside this context of capitalist relations its capacity for independent production is much diminished. Generally it can be exercised now only in capitalist factories.

The capitalist mode of production changes the shape of material production. The machinery too is subsumed under capital. For the means of labour end up as an automatic system of machinery, and the shape in which the immediate means of labour was included into the production process of capital is superseded by a form posited by capital itself and corresponding to it. It now has a shape adequate to capital. Whatever changes fixed capital undergoes it must accord with this requirement. Moreover, the material recalcitrance of labour is minimised through the very design of the factory.

With the real subsumption of the human and material elements of the production process, capital takes them into its possession in a more than legal sense; having them within its power its spirit is present there. The productive power of labour and machinery is now capital’s own power.

A capitalist firm is specified formally as a mass of value. But capital must always be materially instantiated if it is to have determinacy. In order to produce efficiently capital must combine definite complementary factors of production in the relevant proportions. The category of ‘subsumption’ is required in order to construe this relation between value and use-value, more specifically between the general form of capital and the material it subsumes. If the factory is ‘the body of capital’, its ‘soul’ is the living labour process as it is appropriated by capital as a valorisation process.

In short capital is a relation of production. Yet capital presents itself as the prime mover in the economy. Since the labour process is subsumed under the valorisation process, productive labour belongs to capital. Capital is productive insofar as it ‘produces’ the compulsion to do surplus labour on the part of the workers. Given this, it seems capital creates capital.

There is here a double subsumption.

First, capital as self-valorising appropriates the productive labour of isolated workers. Because capital employs legally each worker individually, surplus labour is likewise expropriated from each singly. This has to do with the social positing of labour as belonging to capital, through the wage contract.

Second, capital is the personification, the reified shape, of the productive powers of social labour. As a productive power capital is incarnate in the collective labourer. Despite the use made of their individual skills this collectivity is plausibly represented, not as that of the associated individuals, but as capital’s own productive power insofar as its principle of organisation flows from capital, which subsumes the individuals under the hierarchical division of labour imposed on them. (Here the labour of superintendence, the design and management of the production process, occurs as if the representative of capital were like the conductor of an orchestra.)

Capital as ‘subject’ is incarnate in the factory regime. Capital embodied in means of production (its inorganic body) employs every worker as a labour-power machine (its organic body); they are its ‘hands’, subjugated to the discipline of the factory regime. Materially the factory embodies an intention alien to the workers and brings them into connection externally so as to constitute a collective labourer they do not comprehend. It is collectively that concrete labours are really subsumed under capital when it imposes material shapes of co-operation, division of labour, and machinery.

In addition to serving as exploited source of surplus labour, the immediate producers are alienated from their own universality as socially productive, since the labour process is not that of freely associated producers but subsumed under the despotism of the capitalist factory. Once internalised by the ideal totality of capital labour becomes posited as capital’s internal other. Thus when it realises itself in its social manifestation it appears in value only as reified.

Remark When these two inversions are conflated, the result of the first, which posits capital as creator of profit, may be seen as the act of capital qua thing (the factory system); conversely the power of produced means of production may be seen as that of capital qua monetary form.

§52.3 The Constitution of Capital through a Dialectic of Negativity

I come now to an important point. To say that value is crystallised time is to put the point formally. In reality this time is predicated on capital’s relation to living labour, because that is its required carrier, not merely passively, but only as labour is pumped out of recalcitrant workers. In the previous section, we treated capitalist production in its immediacy, considering production only as capital’s production time. But in this section we see a radical difference there because capital relies upon living labour, which is fundamentally other than it. Thus the justification for this focus on labour here is to examine capital’s appropriation of it, and its positing as capital’s ‘internal other’ (as I term it, in contrast to the ‘external other’, Nature).

I argue that value is nothing but a crystallisation of the time of production. An ontological transformation, from a motion to a fixity, is posited in the value form of the produced commodity. However, this ‘time of capital’ is identical to labour time insofar as labour is negatively related to capital as the other it must control.

In the first place the production process is a material metabolism. Looked at in its immediacy, disregarding its social form, production is a material transformation of given material into products (whether ‘final’ or ‘intermediate’) with specific use-value. In order to accomplish production, the worker employs instruments, whether simple tools, or machinery which implies cooperation and a peculiar division of labour. It is important to distinguish between the production process in general and the labour process narrowly defined. In the next section it will be argued that value should be taken as a function only of labour time not of production time in general. But for the moment we speak as if production time were labour time.

As a consequence of its real subsumption, waged labour engages in its own objectification process as a mode of existence of capital. The power of preserving value and creating new value is therefore capital’s power; so, formally, the process is one of capital’s self-valorisation, while the workers who produce what has value – value alien to them – are, in contrast, impoverished. Thus living labour realises itself in the mode of denial, when reified in value.

Even if the individual is reduced to a cog in a machine, social production, including the production of knowledge, becomes more powerful albeit in alienated form. Nevertheless, the motor of the dialectic of the capital relation is self-constituting capital, while labour reproduces the wage-labour relation because it is forced to do so, as capital confines it to propertylessness. In the capital relation, there is an interpenetration of opposites such that there is a dialectic of determining of the determinant, whether capital or labour, each is struggling for supremacy. The principal aspect of the capital relation (hence properly so-called) is capital.

In the factory the collective worker embedded in the configuration of machinery appears as a sort of concrete universality but this labour is alienated, because as waged labour it functions as capital so that capital, originally ideal, is concretised in moving matter. But living labour is always, even under real subsumption, other than, and external to, capital, continually recalcitrant to the ideal totality in principle. With waged labour, capital appropriates it in form, but labour power is ever in excess of this conceptualisation of it as mere human capital (hence its potential liberation in socialist relations of production).

Pure time is the immanence phenomenally present only ‘as’ time of value positing hidden in that of labour; economy of this time is then a matter of addressing labour times. When I said time is value-as-immanence, I now say this time is grounded in the time of ‘pumping out’ living labour. If this appropriation is taken as already accomplished, we may then proceed with capital’s development of further forms.

Recall that in the first chapter I discussed the triad: sociation, dissociation, association. The association of productive enterprises, through the exchange and money system, does not abolish dissociation but achieves the resocialisation of these dissociated enterprises under a very peculiar form, the value form. What are the consequences of this dialectic for the labour of the immediate producer? Dissociated labours, presented in the commodities exchanged, become labours recognised in the social form of money only in their abstract identity, because, just as use-value is not represented in the value of commodities, neither are concrete labours in their variety recognised. In all societies labour has a social form but only in capitalist society is production socially mediated in this abstract universal form. In other societies, whether feudal or communist, labour is immediately social. This is true even where, in a five-year plan, labour is socially equated, and treated as a concrete whole to be divided and assigned as required. In such a case labour is a concrete universal, but in commodity production labour becomes social only as the abstraction of itself.

What then is the relation of living labour to value and its magnitude? It is the carrier of capital’s productive activity. Once appropriated through waged labour, living labour becomes in effect capital’s agent in its self-valorisation, capital itself being the prime mover in the process. Albeit living labour is essential to material production it is recognised in value only through one isolated determination, the time it takes. Not only is concrete labour not recognised in value, labour itself, just insofar as it is always concrete, is absented.

What about the immediate producer, the worker, who supplies living labour without which nothing at all would get produced? I argued that this material basis of production is abstracted from in the time crystallised in the value of a commodity. Now I examine more closely the capital relation that structures production. In this I consider, not now the formal negation of living labour in its absenting in value, but its real negation, in that labour under capital is always, in principle, forced labour.

As potentially recalcitrant to its exploitation by capital, living labour is negated in a more complex way than simply its positing as carrier of capital’s valorisation process. Although capital posits the commodity as its own product, it requires living labour to undertake the transformation of matter. Capital achieves this more or less efficiently when subordinating it to capital’s own aims. Here living labour is negatively posited as the sublated condition of existence of value. Living labour takes a positive determination when it is acknowledged as the creator of use-values: it is negatively determined as what it ‘costs’ capital to overcome its recalcitrance to exploitation. Capital constitutes itself only through a dialectic of negativity, waged labour being in and against capital.

In the capital relation proper, we see that, on the one hand, this seems to be characterised by a confrontation between capital and labour, on the other it is rightly characterised as the capital relation because labour here is already formed by capital as waged labour. Workers have no option but to sell their labour power to capital.

It is in this context that the difficult issue of the labour theory of value is raised. As I have argued it will not do simply to identify labour and value; for a start, it is clear they have different states; one is a movement, the other is its result. Labour is the negatively posited sublated ground of capital value, so its time is the carrier of capital’s time. This is the time capital is tied up when it is obliged to undergo the trouble of pumping out labour from the workers.

Now the original phenomenal definition of value as a power of exchange is supplemented by the immanent determinant of value as (labour) time appropriated, each having a measure peculiar to it. The relation between the two is not causal in the sense of an external relation of correlation. It is the becoming of value from a state of unrest to that of rest.

It is not quite correct to say that living labour is the ‘source’ of value because that suggests a positive effect. In truth, capital posits value only through appropriating, while ‘negating’, living labour, forcing recalcitrant labour to produce and positing the resulting commodity as a value. The product as a value marks the success of capital at pumping out labour from the immediate producer.

Capital creates value, but it does so only through its appropriation of the labour that creates the bearer of value. On the ground of the separation of the worker from the object of productive activity there results the subordination of the workers to capital, and therewith the expropriation of their productive powers by capital which exploits them for its own ends; but the essentially contested nature of this exploitation requires a new understanding of the labour theory of value as a dialectic of negativity.

Adam Smith thought the labourers need recompense for their ‘toil and trouble’; this was the basis of his value theory; but there is no process through which the individual labourers commensurate their toil and trouble with that of others. The products have a unitary form as products of capital. Thus capitals commensurate their toil and trouble, namely the time they are tied up in the production process, the time taken to pump out labour from recalcitrant workers.

While it is common to speak about the ‘production’ of value, such a notion is problematic. There is no doubt that the workers produce the commodity, and that the commodity has value. But these moments should not be telescoped such that labour is taken to produce that value. Value is clearly a social determination acquired by the commodity when capital commensurates commodities in the market. It seems odd to treat it as a product over and above the bodily form of the commodity. The issue is even more paradoxical; for the labour supposedly ‘producing’ value is said to be abstract in character. However, I believe these paradoxes obtain because of the peculiarity of the value form, insofar as it constitutes a realm of ideality overlying the material reality. If an abstract activity cannot produce an object in the usual sense, it may yet produce an ideal objectivity, especially if we logicise the term production and treat it as a ‘positing’. Thus the activity of valorisation posits its result as value.

Very well. But this ideal objectivity is surely not a product in any substantive sense, merely the activity taken as resulting in an ideal predicate of the commodity. Nonetheless, I claim this positing does result in the creation of an ideal social substance. This category I developed earlier in the dialectic of the value form. In its dialectical self-presentation, value passes from a relation to a property to a substance to a subject. The substance of capital is accumulated value, endlessly valorised anew. If capital is accumulated it must be a substance. Certainly this substance cannot be hefted in the hand, but it is an ideal substance whose weight is felt on the economic scales.

If the valorisation process is subtended by the labour process, value is produced at the very same time as labour produces the commodity that has value attributed to it. Just as the commodity is interpellated formally as ‘a value’ (note the real metonymy here) so the labour that produced it is interpellated formally as that which supports the process of positing value, an abstract logical process to be sure. But, insofar as capital takes possession of material production, its agent, labour, carries the abstract activity of generating new value (not just new use-value), as if the labour itself were abstract. Because of the hidden inversion of material and ideal, it appears as if labour as such ‘produces value’. This is not a fault of consciousness but a ‘fault’ in reality. If the root of this hypostatisation is not recognised then material labour is fetishised. This has important consequences for the fetish-character of commodity production. The social positing of commodities as values leads to the fetish-character of commodities because the commodity as product per se appears as a value. If the commodity is fetishised it is reasonable to surmise that the activity producing it may be fetishised.

This is true of those who claim to have seen through the vulgar form of commodity fetishism on the market to the production of commodities. So productive labour is taken as value positing in classical political economy (and especially by Ricardian socialists), yet its apparent power of creating value really registers the effectivity of the social form within which production is carried on. How does this happen? Just as value inhabits the natural body of the commodity so we find value positing is carried by living labour. This makes it look as if it is living labour itself that ‘produces’ value as well as use-value. This is nonsense if taken as a natural property of labour, but this attribution of a power of producing value has a certain ‘objective validity’ just as in the parallel case of the commodity itself.

This double character of the labour process (positing value at the same time as use-value) is objectively determined. The positing of labour ideally as pure activity gives material labour a fetish-character because the pure movement of value is introjected into its carrier. (Just as the value form is internalised by the commodity.) If this abstract labour is identified with the material labour given to the value form then we have full-blown fetishism. If the social valorisation process is conceptually collapsed to the labour process that bears it then productive labour in some material definition is taken to produce value. Labour – understood as a material activity – is fetishised as inherently productive of value. If the attribution of value to the commodity has a fetish-character so the claim labour produces value has a fetish-character. But, no matter that we show how this fetish-character occurs, it is not merely an illusion. Just as the commodity provides a ‘body’ for value, so the appearance that ‘labour produces value’ has objective validity when the labours are determined as carriers of the positing of new value.

The imposition of the value form on the product of labour is complemented by the material reality of exploitation which must go beyond the technical economising of time to the ‘pumping out’ of labour, so it is determined as forced labour as well as abstract labour. Value is the result of forced labour, and its magnitude is determined by the time of such exploitation.

While value is not produced, it is created. How do I make this distinction? Clearly in both cases something new results; however, value is created when a new form is acquired by what is produced. Productive activity transforms one configuration of matter to another. Thus ‘a product’ is ‘made out of’ such material. But, if value is essentially a social form, and contains ‘not an atom of matter’, it is not ‘made out of’ anything at all; rather, it gives social form to what production has made. It is an unobjectionable metaphor to speak of the product as the objectification of living labour; but this fact should not be translated into a claim about the value character of the commodity.

Labour, considered positively as essential to production, is that concrete labour objectified in the specific use-value of the product. Labour, considered negatively, is forced labour exploited by capital for whatever time is socially necessary to produce a commodity.

Capital wants its production process to be frictionless, but, as forced labour, production retains the moment of negativity. The determination of labour as immanently bound up with value is preserved in that negation of the negation wherewith capital negates that which opposes it (the recalcitrant worker), and presents value as a positive result. So this negation of its negation allows capital to posit itself as the author of value and surplus value.4

In sublating the living labour that is the material ground of valorisation, capital sublates therewith the specificity of its shapes of dominance and the character of any recalcitrance overcome. This is why in exchange-value labour does not appear at all because capital represses its origin in this negativity and presents the commodity to exchange as its own product. However, this is a determinate negation such that its origin in labour is preserved in sublated form. The term ‘sublation’ indicates that something is denied, here that the valorisation process is a labour process, and something preserved, here that waged labour is a precondition of value positing. In short, capital is the subject of production, producing above all itself, while labour is negatively posited as its sublated ground. In this Alice-in-Wonderland sense waged labour may be considered the ‘source’ of value.

Labour is abstracted from because there is no genus such as ‘labour’ as an abstract universal, e.g. as physiologically similar, that is effective, any more than ‘utility’ is effective. But just as the bodily product supports the spectral body of an ideal value substance, so pure time is carried by living labour. But the relation is inverted in that labour is predicated of time, as time’s material carrier. The value form absents the various concrete times of production when the ideal time of self-moving value takes possession of them and homogenises them.

In the absence of resistance, workers are no less ‘personifications’ of capital than the employers, reduced to ‘human capital’, labour machines, a resource to be managed. If labour were perfectly reified this is all that would need to be said. However, it is not; and this introduces a new dynamic to our consideration of living labour, we shall argue next.

Living labour does not appear as value, because value-in-process, capital, both absents it formally, and negates it materially, such that living labour is presented in value not as realised but as de-realised. (Yet it remains, albeit sublated, as the material basis with its effectivity as the root of time taken.) It follows that violence is done to living labour in a more radical sense than its treatment as an abstraction of itself. Living labour is realised only in the mode of unreality. The abstract objectivity of value mediates itself in the abstract activity of value positing. Conversely what abstract activity ‘produces’ can be only an abstract product such as value, whose magnitude is a function of the amount of derealised labour absorbed.

Marx picks out the implications of this transition from labour into value when he writes that this process of the realisation of labour (in the product) is at the same time the process of its de-realisation (in the value of the commodity); it posits itself objectively, but it posits its objectivity as its own non-being, or as the being of its non-being, the being of capital.5

This is a stupendous insight from the point of view of this chapter. Capital is a subject; counter to it is living labour; but in the capital relation this labour is self-estranged.

The self-affirmation of capital and the self-negation of labour are identical, distinguished only as mutually presupposing moments. However, the ‘capital relation’ is properly so-called (i.e. capital is both part and whole) since it affirms itself therein, while labour is reproduced as the propertyless other of capital. While the logic of difference is suppressed it remains an immanent source of critique. This is not because ‘really’ labour is everything and capital is nothing, but because the re-forming of the human reality of the labour process by the inhuman form of capital generates an inverted reality. The ‘true’ and ‘false’ ontology of capital are coexistent.

Labour I call the ‘internal other’ of capital; its exploitation is central to capitalist production but it is always ‘other’ than capital even when thoroughly subsumed by it. The ‘time of capital’ which is a determinant of the magnitude of value, is ‘carried’ by the ‘time of labour’, but only in the context of the capital relation. Labour’s objectification in value realises itself paradoxically as the being of its non-being, namely the being of capital. Conversely capital has labour as its subjectified non-being that it subordinates to its aims.

Alienation characterises the unity in contradiction of labour and capital, in which living labour generates capital as its non-being, but also capital has to pass through the otherness of material production alien to its ideality. To be sure, social labour realises itself as a concrete totality at the material level in a wealth of use-values. But this positive universality is simultaneously negative in the generation of the value totality, as capital, because it is the alienation of living labour, its realisation as something opposed to it.

However, given there is this relation between capital and labour, the contradictions of the capital relation may be examined from two sides, first, here, from the side of living labour; it is able to realise itself only when made into capital’s own activity, acting as the use-value of capital; second, from the side of capital, which constitutes itself only through a dialectic of negativity; finally, I argue that capital, as the principal aspect of the contradiction, has to be considered as successful in winning the struggle at the point of production, and reducing labour to a manageable ‘resource’, if we are to advance the presentation of capital’s epochal dominance, and give an account of the determination of the magnitude of value.

To say that the movement of production is powered by the self-activity of the Concept sounds like the sheerest idealism, an inversion of the true relation of the material and the ideal. But in the case of capital this inversion in reality, brought about by a peculiar material practice, exists and it has profound consequences. There is an interpenetration of ideal and material determinants. In no way is the generation of value and surplus value a linear reflection of living labour in its movement. To be sure there is a sense in which labour inputs are ontologically more fundamental, but the peculiar constitution of capital, including its presence as many capitals, means that determinations proper to it shape the process (as we see later).6

However, despite the hegemony of capital over labour in the capital relation, the original separation between the material and ideal remains. The right term to characterise the rule of capital over its material presuppositions is ‘subsumption’; yet, although labour is appropriated, internalised even, by capital, there is never a final harmony in which capital properly recognises in labour only itself in material shape. Although it seems the ideal totality inscribes within its forms labour and Nature, this is not finally true because all along there is the ‘excess’ that cannot be ‘idealised’ by the concept, namely the concrete richness of social labour. Moreover, this cannot be left aside as having no economic determinacy because the dialectic of form and content means that each is mediated in the other.

There are two moments. The development of the value form is naturally entirely on the side of the form, as value takes on more complicated shapes. But it requires at every point material grounding. The material appropriated, including labour, it formally treats as mere stuff, and materially makes into a shape adequate to its demands. Nonetheless, it is perfectly possible for determination from the side of the ‘content’ to be economically effective. For example, large-scale production impels the development of joint-stock companies. In the contradictory relationship of capital and labour, capital is the principal aspect in that it realises itself albeit on the basis of a dialectic of negativity. If we assume in the further presentation that capital continually wins the struggle at the point of production, we may present ‘after the harvest’ calculations of value and surplus value as if capital is in truth now constituted.

Capital faces material, means of production, and living labour. It has to realise its Idea through the ‘labour of the negative’ in subsuming these. But only in the case of labour may we properly speak of potential recalcitrance, in the sense of a practical contestation of capitalist exploitation, through strikes, sabotage, and so forth. It is true that empirically cases may be found in which workers enjoy their work, and are satisfied with its rewards. However, potentially, the working class is a counter-subject to capital. If labour power became totally reified, indistinguishable from a robot ‘work force’, then our argument would not hold. In such a case all the time of capital would count equally for it, whether labouring, machining, or ‘naturing’. However, this possibility has little plausibility. Human beings have to deploy their knowledge and experience to keep the production process going. Even in the limiting case of forms of real subsumption so extreme that labour appears ‘robotic’, it is still the case the workers have to force themselves to act as robots, they still act. Likewise, although capital treats the social power of labour as its own, at bottom it remains the power of human beings, albeit appearing as a power alienated from them. Yet our dialectic must uncover the reality of capital’s hegemony here.

We resume the dialectical development of the Idea of Capital in the next section on this basis, namely the understanding that capital is to constitute itself in and through the capital relation. In this it takes the labour it appropriates as its own use-value, valorising itself through this carrier of its movement.

§53 The Self-Valorisation of Capital

I distinguish between the labour process and the valorisation process that is borne by it.7 The elements of the labour process are labour itself, the means of production and the material worked upon. The product is a commodity with some (real or imaginary) use. The valorisation process is that in which the value of the material and means of production (termed ‘constant capital’) is combined with the expenditure of labour power to create the value of the commodity. The reward for the workers’ surrender of their labour power is the wage. The reward for capital is surplus value.

Given what I have explained earlier, I think it is the real, or potential, recalcitrance of the labourers to capital that justifies the theoretical attribution of value to labour, and the reduction of other determinants of price to a secondary status. But if one speaks of recalcitrance, it is clear that one means recalcitrance to exploitation. But this insight means that in a peculiar way the category of exploitation is prior to the category of value itself.8

The usual reading of the labour theory of value suggests labour produces value and then capital steals some of it. We reject this view in favour of a reading in which capital produces value in the very process of exploiting workers. Value on this reading is the form in which competing capitals commensurate their degree of success in exploiting labour. Recalcitrance to this, assuredly takes concrete forms such as working slowly. Thus exploitation is a qualitative matter, involving such concrete measures as the division of labour, speed up of the line, and so forth. (The quantitative issue of the very possibility of the genesis of ‘surplus value’ we treat below: §53.2.) Labour is subject to a double determination. At the immediate level of valorisation, it is simply the carrier of capital in its movement of positing the commodity as a value with definite magnitude. At a deeper level, because it is recalcitrant to capital, this introduces a dialectic of negativity in which capital succeeds in valorising itself only through thoroughly subsuming labour to its purposes. On that basis labour time is peculiar and to be distinguished from other times for which capital is tied up.

I divide this discussion into §53.1 Value Added; §53.2 Genesis of Surplus Value; §53.3 The Wages of Labour.

§53.1 Value Added

The value of a commodity is the product of two factors: the value of the means and material ‘embodied’ in it (unchanged) is termed ‘constant capital’; new value is added to this during the course of production. We have related the genesis of this new value indirectly to labour time. Now this must be determined more precisely. To begin with, my very definition of capital refers to the determination of time; it is not merely the generation of a monetary increment, but the rate at which this is accomplished that is the true measure of capital as self-valorising value. For exchange of capitalistically produced commodities, the natural basis for it is the different times during which capital is tied up in their production. It is commensurated across competing capitals. This means the value of a commodity must be related to that time socially necessary to produce it. This is the first form in which the magnitude of value is determined.

Here I treat production time as capital’s time. One problem with this is that the coefficient that harmonises the concrete times of production departs from them in a series of transformations beginning with the form of ‘socially necessary labour time’, and then further disturbed, we shall see, by the effect of organic compositions and so forth, which means some times count for more or less than others. The most difficult issue to analyse is the nature of this ‘time’, for capital’s time is different from the empirically given time of the material process of production. In the real world every production process takes its own time; but it would be clearly absurd to have a lazy worker ‘create’ more value in the product than an energetic one in exactly the same sort of product. The market, when it assimilates these products to the same class with the same price, will discount these real times.

Commodities exchange at value, that is, in proportion to their socially necessary labour times, since dynamic competition within a sector causes capitals to approximate to such times. But what is the time socially necessary? One might think that it is the time taken by the firm employing best practice; for clearly the other firms wasted time relative to this one. The firm with best practice will make additional profit, because of its lower labour costs, until the other firms have caught up.

But I do not define ‘necessary’ as best practice but as the ‘average’ one. Why? Because this approximates to the time the market will recognise as necessary. But what is ‘average’? Statistics recognises in a distribution three possibilities, the mode, the mean, and the median. Many take the mean as the relevant parameter. However, if the point is to explain that value at which the bulk of commodities easily exchange it seems better to take the mode. I take the modal time to be the right parameter. In static competition, this should be taken as the mode of the (weighted) distribution of times, rather than the mean. Price reflects the modal socially necessary labour time established by the spectrum of capitals competing in the same industry, because that is the value which is most likely to be present in the experience of capitalists.

Remark Assuming that commodities exchange in accordance with modal socially necessary labour times has an interesting consequence for the notion of ‘wasted labour’, if it is the case that the distribution of times in different sectors is skewed differently. For a sector, A, with a large ‘tail’ of relatively inefficient capitals, such capitals will secure less than the social average rate of profit, while in a sector, B, with most firms at the cutting edge of innovation the same firms will have above average rates until the others catch up or drop out. Other things being equal the sector with the larger number of backward firms has wasted labour. Thus the sector as a whole is penalised. But there is no so-called ‘transfer’ of value to other sectors. Rather, this labour counts no more than does the extra time worked by a supposed ‘lazy’ worker within a single firm. Conversely the innovating sector will be rewarded with a ‘technological rent’ because labour uses more powerful machinery. The theoretical importance of this is again the same: there is no one-to-one correspondence of hours actually worked and the value arising.

At all events the unity established between competing firms in a common price means that hours in the less efficient firms count for less than in the more efficient. Such an abstraction from the real times already makes clear that abstract labour time is socially imputed. In the case of weight, an individual weight is given regardless of the weight of other objects; but the valuation of a product of labour depends on that of all others.

It is necessary to distinguish the labour in socially equalised ‘abstract labour’ from the labour commensurated in ‘socially necessary labour time’. The former – a qualitative notion – is socially abstract labour pertaining to the comparability of all commodities as values. The latter reduces to pure time the concrete totality of labours that are materially necessary for production of each specific commodity (thus allowing for additive quantitative determination). In the production of a commodity the various concrete labours have to be homogenised so as to be added; and then averaged over firms to establish the time socially necessary.

To return to the main argument here, labour is the necessary bearer of capital’s abstract activity of value positing in the process of production of commodities. Insofar as such labour is taken as completely reified, it appears as purely mechanical motion, as the mere passage of time from one state of the process to another, in such a case, value is the condensed form of pure time, of which the worker is the mere predicate. So the labour theory of value is indicated only when labour time is distinguished from other ‘times’ of capital through which it passes in its circuit. Labour counts doubly: it counts abstractly as pure time, like any other time, but concretely it is distinguishable from other times because it resists capital’s attempt here to economise on time.

It is important that we put at the centre of our discussion the category of time; yet there are other production times than labour time, for example, crops ripening, steel cooling, wine fermenting, and the like; in short, Nature ‘naturing’ albeit under the direction of the producer. But why is not Nature exploited? For it plays a role, measurable in time spent, in many production processes. My view is that there is an ontological difference between ‘naturing’ and ‘labouring’. The former simply takes time but the latter is recalcitrant to its exploitation by capital.

Capital creates new value (and transfers existing value) only if it wins the struggle at the point of production to subordinate (not merely formally subsume) living labour to the demands of capital. Of course, capital does ‘count’ the time spent on naturing; but from our point of view only the time of labour is constitutive of value in the first instance. This struggle to appropriate labour is characteristic of the social reality of capital even though labour is formally subsumed under the wage contract as if labour power is a resource like any other.

In the idea of capital, physical space always reduces to time; for example, transport from place to place creates new value in proportion to the time it takes. Here value recollects what passes, making it internal to what is now present to us in outer form. For my pure notion of value, all the use-value aspects of production which make the commodity are ignored, so value is now nothing but the very form of the ‘timelessly passed’, i.e. simply the time its making took, which of course leads to our further distinguishing of times. For naturing does not count, and nor does pure circulation; but the time of the retailer does count because it is prior to consumption and involves exploitation of shop assistants. Many service workers, including those working for firms of estate agents, are productive labourers because of this.

§53.2 The Genesis of Surplus Value

At the same time that capital accomplishes the production process it generates surplus value. Part of the value of the commodity repays constant capital, ‘c’. From the value added capital must fund the wage bill. As it seems to be paid by capital Marx terms this ‘variable capital’, ‘v’. (The point of calling it ‘variable’ is to tie it conceptually to the emergence of value added. Later I contest this term but for convenience I use v to refer to the wage-bill so as to maintain congruence with Marx’s exposition.) Yet there is a surplus left over, ‘s’. So the value of the commodity may be further disaggregated into ‘c + v + s’. How do I explain the genesis of this surplus?

Historically, vulgar economy talked of ‘profit on alienation’. But because value is always self-identical the origin of surplus value must lie on the use-value side. The problem lies in the fact that circulation is premised on exchange of equivalents, yet as a result of this process a surplus value emerges. Whence? The answer to this must lie in what is identical but different within capital and that is its production process. If the production process is carried on beyond a certain time the counter-value of the wage is exceeded and further value is added, which is available to capital. In a working day of sufficient length, labour power creates more products than it embodies as a result of the consumption of the real wage. This surplus product is appropriated by capital in the form of surplus value.

Even if we assume that surplus value comes from surplus labour there is still the question: why labour? Some say disutility of labour; some say creativity of labour; I say recalcitrance of labour to its appropriation by capital. It is capital’s toil and trouble in subsuming labour that is the key socio-political dimension of ‘economics’. Thus I hold a properly political economy.

Despite the equality supposedly present in the bargain through which the worker gets a ‘fair wage’ or a ‘living wage’, only some of the value added is returned to the worker, in accordance with the prevailing ‘value’ of labour power; thus a sufficiently long working day provides more value than that, namely a surplus appropriated by capital. On the one hand, capital is self-grounded in form; on the other, it feeds, vampire like, on labour.

Now let me examine a way of posing the issue that I regard as defective. It is argued by some that for valorisation to occur, a capitalist must sell a commodity above its value (or purchase from another capitalist a commodity below its value). Here, it is said, the total value cannot increase; it may only be redistributed; the clever trader’s profit is effectively a theft from others. (This happens but it cannot explain the systematic generation of surplus value by capital on the basis of exchange of equivalents.) Equally deficient is the pre-Marxist theory of profit: that it is a theft from the worker. The objection to the ‘theft’ argument, that theory must assume all commodities, including labour, are sold at value, is finessed by the plausible reply that labour markets are different; the workers are price-takers, forced to work on capital’s terms because of their powerlessness. Only when labour is scarce might wages approximate the real value of labour.

This position was forcefully rebutted by Marx who insisted that, even if the worker is paid the full ‘value’ of what he sells, even so, the surplus value mysteriously appears. Since it cannot be created in circulation it must first appear in production. Marx’s brilliant solution in truth is only partially adequate. He correctly distinguishes between labour power and labour. Despite appearances, namely that often labour is priced by the hour, labour as the very ‘source’ of value cannot have a value itself. The wage, in any case, is not paid for labour but for labour power. Marx then explains that the value of labour power is determined like that of any other commodity by its conditions of production, not by its use.

But, as Marx himself acknowledged, it is different in that the real wage has historical and moral determinants. The very core of the capitalist system, the condition under which capital appropriates alien labour, is in fact radically indeterminate. Marx recognised this with respect to the length of the working day, stating that in a struggle of right against right force decides; but the same is true of wages especially after the formation of unions. Yet capital still has the upper hand.

Now, since labour power is not produced in capitalist factories it has no value. Although sold, it is not a commodity; but it has commodity form; hence it has a price corresponding to that of the real wage bundle necessary to ensure the reproduction of the worker and their family. ‘Necessary’ here is relative; it is not a physiological minimum, it has moral and historical determinants. By ‘moral’ I understand the class struggle and its current balance of forces; by historical I understand the level of productive forces that makes possible mass production of goods for workers. Clearly, if today wages were to be reduced to a level at which the workers could not buy TV s, then not only would the workers revolt but the economy would enter a terminal depression with wholesale destruction of capital, beginning with the TV manufactures.

It is only for methodological reasons that the real wage is taken as given here, when we see how capital pumps out surplus labour, assuming the balance of class forces is set.

In my account, exploitation is an ahistorical category in that there are relevant continuities across all class societies in which, in one way or another, a surplus product is appropriated by the ruling class. In one sense, the issue is to explain how this can happen in a market society governed by the rule of equivalent exchange.

Marx’s solution, distinguishing what is sold, labour power, from what it yields, labour time, is ingenious, but not as exact as it might seem, for the reason that the price of labour power is indeterminate. It is not a commodity produced by capital, and its market determination is affected by its historical and moral component. Nonetheless, it is certainly true that workers labour longer than the time necessary to generate their wage and this surplus labour is the basis of surplus value, however mediated is the connection.

Living labour has no value whatsoever so there can be no question of whether ‘all the labour time is paid’, because this is a misleading appearance. What is paid for is labour power, whose use-value is labour. If the wage is set sufficiently low the possibility of a surplus value consequent on the exploitation of labour is present. So the working day may be notionally divided, the time necessary to produce the counter-value of the wage, and the surplus labour time that accounts for surplus value.

For simplicity we begin by taking the real wage as fixed (only when we discuss the tendency of the rate of profit to fall must this condition be relaxed we shall see). Marx thus equated the so-called value of labour power to the value of the means of subsistence. As for ‘subsistence’ this has historical and moral determinants. Here, for the purpose of pure theory, it is equated to the current real wage.

In all this, what is important conceptually is that, in its original constitution, capital is formed out of the exploitation of labour. Living labour creates its own wage, while, at the same time, in its circuit capital moves on its own basis, reproducing and extending itself. The dialectic of form runs up against its own limits when it cannot account fully for its own material content. That workers are able to produce more than they consume is not a logical point but a given condition of existence of the system. Nonetheless, through real subsumption capital has brought this fructiferous agent within its own form of existence.

I convey the complexity of the capital relation by drawing a distinction between the ‘original’ constitution of capital, through a struggle to pump out labour from the exploited class, and the movement of capital on its own basis, as already constituted, as if labour were reified, although of course the ‘original’ process of subsuming labour under capital is always ongoing in reality. Here we still do the former. Later the latter (§81.2).

§53.3 The Wages of Labour

In elucidating the magnitude of surplus value the distinction between living labour and labour power is important. The ‘production’ of labour power is investigated below. But insofar as this distinction between labour power and labour is itself form-determined neither is to be taken here in its simple materiality, i.e. as an ahistorical distinction between a capacity and its exercise. Here living labour is form-determined as a ‘factor’ of production, presupposed as such in separation from the other factors, as pure activity, until capital determines it as a specific concrete labour by uniting it with its means and its object in that peculiar configuration of the production process characteristic of capital’s incarnation in the material basis of valorisation. Likewise, labour power is figured by capital as a featureless potential to labour, inseparable from the labourer, but separable, indeed separated, from the collectivity of social labour; every labour power exists in a ‘dot-like isolation’ from its social and physical content. It is an indeterminate potential as part of the capitalist labour force until assigned (and trained if necessary) to a specific job in the division of labour.

However, before something exists as form-determined it exists previously ‘on its own account’, so to speak. Labour power and land are capital’s ‘others’, which it simply encounters in an external sphere but which it posits, in its logic, as its own others. This it does formally by finding a way to commodify them even though they are not commodities in the proper sense of products of capital.

Yet, under the wage form, labour power is presupposed to be a commodity, as if it were like any other commodity. The irrationality of this is suppressed by capital when it is always already presupposed. Historically it may be presented as the result of a process of expropriation of the object of labour leaving labour power ‘doubly free’ and hence unresistant to a tacit agreement with capital to treat the ‘labour market’ as like any other. But this surd in the logical totality of capital is sublated when capital develops its own law of population. Although capital cannot ‘produce’ labour power, it does reproduce its presence as a resource available to it in its own accumulation process. Reliant on wages, the labourers must return daily for further exploitation. But Marx’s genius lay in his account of the continual reproduction of the reserve army of labour.9 What appeared at the outset as a historical presupposition, namely that free labour is given to capital as a resource to be appropriated by it, becomes logically posited in capital’s own rhythm of development. Almost like a process of breathing, capital sucks in labour, and then, when skill shortages present themselves, expels labour again through the introduction of labour-saving machinery.

Labour power is a paradoxical commodity. In a purely capitalist system all inputs must have been outputs, but it is an input which is absent as output. Yet it has to be present for capitalism to work at all. It must then be an output of a sphere which is not one of commodity production but which sells its output as if it were, the domestic sphere in fact. (Although there is much more to say about domestic labour, in no way is it immediately productive of new value, I shall argue in Chapter 16.)

If it is to be made present by capital itself, instead of being a non-logical condition of capital’s existence, this presupposition must be posited in the logic itself. How? It seems this must be capital’s limit condition, beyond the scope of its dialectical systematicity. However subsumed by capital, labour power is never a product of capital. Yet, when capital takes possession of its material presuppositions, it is able to reproduce them as its own material presuppositions. If it does this then the external conditions become assimilated to the interior of capital. The impossibility of the commodification of labour power is finessed by treating labour power’s absolute exteriority as always already surpassed. Capital fills the empty place of this ‘commodity’ through a peculiar set of mediations that sublate the historicity of free labour and make it timelessly present to capital.

But the domestic sphere is internal to capital reproduction in that it is the centre of a sub-circuit of capital, namely the worker’s circuit. Complementary to capital’s circuit is a secondary circuit: that of the reproduction of labour power by the workers themselves. The worker takes the wage and expends it on the means of consumption required for the reproduction of labour power. Labour power is reproduced domestically, thus it is not a capitalist commodity despite appearances. From this point of view the domestic reproduction of labour power occurs in a ‘black box’ in the circulation of commodities, with the value coming out equal to the values entering. Commodities enter and labour power leaves, requiring to be paid a wage to cover its ‘subsistence’ costs. Although the domestic sphere is thus formally subsumed by the capitalist system it is materially beyond its purview. This circuit is deeply paradoxical. On the one hand, it seems to take place in circulation only, the labourer sells labour power and buys means of subsistence. But the transformation of the means of subsistence into labour power is surely a form of production? Yet it is unknown to capital. However, insofar as capital exerts its hegemony on both sides of the domestic sphere it has formally subsumed it under its own rule.

In this way labour power becomes commodified, despite its otherness to capital. This peculiarity further underlines the centrality of the capital relation. Instead of ‘digging into’ the domestic sphere in order to give domestic labour a wage form, capital subsumes it within its own surface forms.

Having treated production in this chapter, in the next we take up reproduction.


This long chapter covers my account of some of the central terms of Marxian value theory, such as ‘abstract labour’, ‘subsumption’, ‘alienation’, ‘surplus value’, ‘value of labour power’, and ‘socially necessary labour time’. The three sections develop from the more abstract treatment of capital in production to the more concrete, as in the presentation as a whole.

It begins (§51) with the exploration of the bare ‘Notion’ of capitalist production as occurring in time and space. The ‘time of production’ remains a pure immanence until it is concretised through the encounter of two produced commodities on the market. The activity of production absents its materiality when it is posited as the carrier of valorisation; for it now counts only as the pure activity of value positing; the act of positing value results in its fixity in the resultant value.

The next section (§52) begins with the elucidation of a crucial turning point in the presentation, namely the need for capital to engage with living labour, if it is to produce itself. It is argued that labour in the production process is determined as ‘abstract’ in a very radical way. Everything about concrete labour is absented; it becomes pure activity, once posited as the carrier of capital’s valorisation process. Furthermore, as really subsumed by capital, labour is posited by capital as its own use-value. Thus, in the capital relation capital, affirms itself, while labour denies itself. Indeed, Marx says it posits itself ‘as its own non-being, or as the being of its non-being, the being of capital’.

Thus labour is the ‘source’ of value only in the paradoxical sense that capital must overcome the resistance of labour in order to create value. Labour is negatively posited as its sublated ground. My ‘labour theory’ is founded in a ‘dialectic of negativity’; waged labour is ‘in and against’ the capital relation.

The presentation then (§53) develops the central forms of capitalist exploitation. Of all the times in which capital is tied up in commodity production it is labour time that is constitutive of value and surplus value. This is because of the peculiar recalcitrance of living labour to capital’s subordination of it. Capitals commensurate in value their relative success at appropriating living labour (and hence the surplus labour that underpins surplus value). This view is different from the usual theory of value, in that it is argued here that value has no reality except as it is grounded in capitalist exploitation.

The distinction between labour power and living labour is partially acceptable as germane to the explanation of the existence of the surplus labour capital expropriates from workers. But the conflation of labour power with capitalist commodities is rejected, because it is not produced by capital, even if a good case can be made that domestic labour is subsumed by the circuit of capital.

Because the real wage has moral and historical determinants its composition is somewhat indeterminate. For methodological reasons it is taken as constant in much of what follows here, in order that the presentation may further develop the parameters of capitalist reproduction and of competition, isolated from movements in the real wage. Now I have shown how capital is constituted, I henceforth consider already-constituted capital as given.


For a criticism of Marx’s Capital on this score see Reuten 2005.


See, for example, Bellofiore 1999, p. 56.


I take the term ‘shadow-form’ from Patrick Murray. There is an extensive discussion of it in Murray 2017, Chapter 5.


See Lebowitz 1992, p. 85.


Marx 1994, p. 202.


Bellofiore 2014, p. 183, distinguishes between the circular movement of self-positing capital and the linear input of living labour to this process.


Confusion between these processes still pervades economics today, despite Marx’s dissection of such errors in his chapter on the so-called ‘Trinity Formula’.


Even some Marxists today see a break in the argument from simple circulation to capitalist production, as if market relations and capitalist production are conceptually opposed. See my reply to Jacques Bidet on this in Arthur 2005a.


Marx 1976, pp. 783–4.

  • Collapse
  • Expand