Chapter 15 Absolute Capital

In: The Spectre of Capital: Idea and Reality
Christopher J. Arthur
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§9 Absolute Capital

I refused the category of ‘Absolute Idea’ in Division I above, for the latter culminates in a contradiction intrinsic to the pure logic of the capital concept. But, when the unity of the value form dialectic, and material production, is established, the Idea of capital articulates the system of industrial capital: the culmination of this is the form of capital as Absolute Idea. In this the ‘spirit of capital’ is embodied in the financial system because it is there that the Idea of capital achieves systematic reflexivity, and all particularity is subsumed in a universal measure of itself, the prevailing rate of interest on capital.

Absolute capital unites the formal notion of capital with the finite objectivity of departments of industry. The general rate of profit is a measure of the fruitfulness of industry, but with financial capital we find capital reflecting on itself, and making the aim of accumulation explicit in the capital markets. It is the form of capital in its purity in which ‘the spirit of capitalism’ is present in its notional shape. In the capital market the system seems formally closed. However, the source of surplus lies ultimately in industry so capital must sink into this material substance, submit itself to the rigours of ‘the labour of the negative’ to actualise itself. But production is ever open to otherness, hence to contingency.

This section is divided as follows. §91 Absolute Capital in Its Notion: The Banking System, Credit, ex nihilo Money; §92 Externalisation of the Moments of the Circuit of Capital: §92.1 Finance; §92.2 Commerce; §92.3 Industrial Production Proper; §93 Capital as Absolute Idea Unites the above Differences in a Whole of Intermediation.

§91 Absolute Capital in Its Notion

Let us consider first the contrast between money as a commodity and money proper. At the level of ‘Essence’, the value of commodity A is supposed to be commodity B; but the value of B is A. This immanence cannot be sustained. We simply have the barter of the associated use-values. Money, as value in autonomous form, allows each commodity to register its value in money, and thus they may then stand as equal to each other as values.

Now, initially in the presentation, a certain commodity, gold, figures as the bearer of money. Although a commodity, it is posited as counting as money. But this means barter is still not transcended. All commodities enter circulation by sale, except gold. It enters as a produced commodity with a potential value, which remains unexpressed in price, hence it could be said to enter through barter. In order for money to oppose itself to commodities as money, not as any sort of commodity, this defect has to be overcome. Money must be as immaterial as value itself.

This does not mean that the presentation was in error in first showing how a commodity counted as money. The supersession of commodity money now certainly takes shape as a criticism of it; but this ‘self-criticism’ is immanent to the presentation itself. The systematic dialectic develops precisely through positing and negating every form presented. The original form of money is now sublated: what is preserved is the positing of the presupposition that value must achieve autonomy; what is discarded is the makeshift wherewith a commodity, excluded from others, is designated as the bearer of value in autonomous form.

Since it cannot be present as a peculiar commodity, but purely as money, it must first be created from outside the realm of commodities, and then be presented to them. The logic of the value form does not allow that there is anything outside the realm of commodities, so money must be created from nothing. Thus banks create credit money ex nihilo. Such money is value in genuinely autonomous form, because not created first as use-value that happens to be valuable. So this nothingness inhabiting money repeats the earlier dialectic in being pure form, in this case the form of the credit/debit relation. However, only if the money created as money blossoms into money as capital does it achieve actual presence, when the banker, and the industrialist, show a profit on their books.

Bank-issued money is denominated in a historically given standard; but that is now a meaningless reference, with inconvertible notes issued by the Central Bank. What counts now is the trustworthiness of banks, and of the state in the case of Central Bank money. The Central Bank issuing legal tender is the Absolute Idea of capital existent logically before the appearance of industry and commerce. However, even if the state grants a monopoly to the Central Bank to issue ‘legal tender money notes’, there is no such monopoly to create money, for every bank can issue lines of credit, albeit denominated in ‘legal tender’.1 Ex nihilo credit money, issued by the banking system, enters circulation without being the counterpart of previously produced commodities.

For value to be properly self-valorising, industrial capital need not be funded from its own limited resources, perhaps from sales, but have available to it funds advanced by banks.2 The final apotheosis of the value system appears in the shape of bank credit. In a perfected capitalist system ‘saving’ is unnecessary to capital investment.3 In principle, the entire outlay may be covered by a line of credit created ex nihilo by a bank. This is the only money immanent to capital. The importance of bank money is that this is the money which capital itself creates, since banks are a particular form of capital. Such money is not an external given. (Moreover, it is a limitation of a commodity money system that the funds required to accelerate economic growth can only come from newly produced gold. Non-monetary uses of gold compete with its monetary, of course. So this creates a further complication.)

Let us consider a pure case of credit, in which money is money of account, and the firm has its account at the bank issuing the loan. (All accounts are denominated in the socially accepted monetary medium.) When the firm borrows a sum of money from the bank this appears as a credit in the firm’s account, and at the same time as an entry on the asset side of the bank’s ledger, because the firm has an obligation to pay; and this is balanced by booking the same sum as a liability on the other side of the bank’s ledger, because the bank guarantees to service cheques issued by the firm.

It is striking that this is a real case of ‘creation out of nothing’. Once again we find at the conclusion of the value form presentation the very form with which I began: nothingness.

It will be recalled that, when I began with ‘Nothing’, I said this gains presence as ‘nothingness’, if it were possible to sustain the dialectic of negativity wherewith Being is posited as not not-Nothing. This falls in on itself unless concretised in a determinate relation with another, equally Nothing, such that the not-Nothing is, in the second Nothing, something other. Then, given two commodities, the commodity defines itself as other than its other, albeit that neither has any determinacy except that constituted in their relation of exchangeableness. The commodity becomes determinate in its Being-for-another, that is to say, when it realises its exchangeableness in another commodity. But this relation is not self-grounded for it exists only on the condition that two commodities are present.

However, the extraordinary feature of ex nihilo money is that the difference is brought to birth purely formally. Now something is there solely in virtue of its inner difference, which allows the determinacy of the relation to obtain as pure form, without the need for bearers such as commodities to sustain the difference. Here, then, value arises out of its own movement. It is self-grounded. Nothingness makes itself present in ex nihilo credit money as pure form in the credit-debit relation.

Originally value emerged as the possible result of the relation established between two commodities. Yet since as material beings these are completely heterogeneous it seems value is merely the contrary of use-value; in itself it is nothing. Yet nothingness achieves its own determinacy in the development of the value form; it becomes autonomous as money. Earlier we took it that there must be a commodity bearer of money, such as gold. Now, with the creation of money ex nihilo, value finally liberates itself from commodities. It is present without being the value of something. In general it makes possible the domination of the money form of value over the commodity form and it is the basis of capital’s ability to determine the direction of production.

Just as at the start I took commodities to be essentially related as values, so now value is present in a relation. A relation of what exactly? An absolute relation of value to value, as such. When creating a line of credit for a firm, the bank’s ledger lists assets and liabilities created by striking a balance between form-determinations of nothingness. It is present only in the determinate relation of positive and negative sums of money in the ledger, which sums sum to … nothing. Both are clearly present. Yet these determinacies are effective in economic circuits because of the determinate reflection of its two complements.

The money created is neither the credit, nor the liability; it is the third that is identical in their opposition. Yet the third is made present only as the difference (it is neither the positive nor the negative) of the difference (the positive and the negative). It is nothing in itself, but it exists in its circulation. There it is actually effective. When a loan is redeemed it might seem that the sum is once again simply zero; but there is something new, the interest paid (or continuing to be paid if the loan is unredeemed). This is indeed the creation of something out of nothing. Yet this new value does correspond to a material result, it is diverted from the sale of the newly produced commodities containing social surplus value.

If all goes well the capital and interest will be covered by final sales. But notice that here there is a temporal inversion; value existed as credit before value was produced by the firms concerned. Value has been produced by value. Having thoroughly subsumed its material bearer, capital appears grounded on itself. All other spheres it subsumes in various ways to its ends. When new money is advanced to firms, this may be characterised as ‘ideal capital’. It becomes real only as active capital in industry when it generates returns to the originating bank: value creates value; capital creates capital. This is capital as Absolute Idea.

§92 Externalisation of Inner Moments of the Circuit of Capital

Implicitly, the existence of banks means that the form of money capital has been differentiated from capital in production as a particular moment. In general we find the externalisation of the moments of the circuit of capital present on a social scale. Earlier we saw that the circuits of money-capital/production-capital/commodity-capital are in unity with each other implicitly, in that each moment can be mediator or mediated according to the point of view taken on it. This notional difference implicit in the metamorphoses of capital becomes determinately posited when they are externalised differentially in autonomous shape, and then again united in absolute capital, or capital as absolute reality. Thus these functional moments also take shape explicitly, ‘for themselves’ so to speak, as three distinct particularisations of capital, financial capital, commercial capital, and industrial capital in the strict sense, distinguished from the other two.

Remark Earlier (§43) I treated money-lending capital, and merchant capital, before industrial capital, because they have fewer logical presuppositions than it. It is important that, although these forms of capital pre-existed industrial capital, they have been transformed by industrial capital itself into its own moments in the shape of finance and commerce. As moments of the entire system of capital they are thoroughly determined in their action by their specific function within it.

§92.1 Finance

The financial system gives the universal form of capital an autonomous existence, alongside that of the ‘real’ individual capitals. In the capital markets, in which financial firms compete, there is a prevailing rate of interest. Capital markets spring naturally from the identity in form of all capitals. Here capital posited in a totality has ontological priority over the individual elements, just insofar as the system is totally permeable, i.e. capital can move. Finance capital can move directly; industrial capital can liquidate in one branch and invest in another. Every capital can be shown to be ahead or behind the game through the concrete existence of a general rate of profit established in the average rate of interest, even though the latter is not a simple expression of the former. Capital here exists as universal capital, under the control of the bankers as representatives of social capital. It is distributed through the banking system in accordance with the specific requirements of production.

Here all capital’s determinations are dissolved and its material elements are occluded. Money is in truth the very shape in which the distinctions between commodities as different use-values are obliterated, and hence also the corresponding distinctions between industrial capitals, which consist of these commodities and the conditions of their production. In the reproduction process of industrial capital, the money form is an evanescent moment. But on the capital market, by contrast, capital always exists in this form. The financial institutions of capital provide both a rough measure of the general rate of profit and the facilities whereby financial capital can be mobilised from one sphere of production to another accordingly.

The ‘personification’ of capital in the shape of ‘the industrialist’ is complemented by that of ‘the banker’. Bankers’ judgements align reality with the demands of the capital concept. This secures a form of ante-validation of productive labour.4 Ante-validation is not merely a one-to-one relation of a bank to a firm, but the regulation by the financial system of total social capital and its creation and distribution. When bank finance to industry ante-validates valorisation it at the same time posits the living labours as carriers of a homogenous social substance. Thus the whole circuit of industrial capital is form-determined.5

Bank advances to firms institute a ‘meta-circuit’ in that there is a reflux of interest to the bank from the circuit of industrial capital. However, its formal character means the financial sector is more than a provider of a service to industry. It has its own determinations, which give rise to such phenomena as the process of ‘financialisation’, ‘derivative trading’ and so forth.

Thus the form ‘money as money’, here a fund, remains as a distinct moment in the reproduction of capital. Although distinct, this moment, as bank finance, is a necessary complement to the reproduction of industrial capital. Moreover, it has broader functions, such as the increasing importance of the provision of consumer credit, especially to the working class. The workers’ circuit is C–M–C′, but they may be forced to borrow means of payment. The money, serving as an intermediary for the worker, functions for capital as a moment of capital. This leads to the compulsion on labourers to become subordinate to capital in a way complementary to that which forces them to seek employment.6

Finance is the all-embracing constellation of the capitalist economy. Abstractly, all types of credit fall under the form of a M–M′ circuit necessary to it.7

§92.2 Commerce

Commercial firms specialise in distributing and marketing particular commodities to other firms and to households. In this sphere, contingency runs riot in ever more absurd product lines. (This is the place for a discussion of how need and demand are manipulated by capital.)

§92.3 Industrial Production Proper

Industrial production, narrowly considered, shows all capitals bent on accumulation are in a similar relation to their other, namely the working class. The capitalist, already acting under the purview of the banks, now attempts to ‘pre-commensurate’ the values they work with, and produce, to suit the ordinary demand on the market. They anticipate the realisation of expected value on the market by engaging in this ideal ‘pre-commensuration’.8

While the production process goes on, capital is in ‘otherness’ but nonetheless exercises hegemony over it. The subsumption of material production by the ideal valorisation process is achieved because it is value-formed from start to finish: bank finance at the start, and realisation of anticipated added value at the end, of the circuit. This results in the formal determination of the material process, thus re-determined according to capital’s requirements. The specifically capitalist production process cannot be understood without this. (It is certainly not an ahistorical production merely represented in a commodity output in circulation.)

§93 The Absolute Idea of Capital

The spheres of finance, commerce, and industry are systematically unified to form the capital system. The Absolute Idea of Capital unites these differences in a whole of intermediation. Each may be considered to mediate itself through the others. The whole is their negative unity as One Idea. Together they constitute capital as Individual (§93.1). Important here is the question whether there is a single unifying centre to the system. I argue to the contrary; there are two (possibly three) centres of determination such that the movement of the system is elliptical, for it is objectively equivocal if the centre is ruled by finance (ideal unity), or industrial capital as a living individual appropriating otherness (§93.2). Nonetheless Capital is Idea (§93.3).

§93.1 The Absolute as Individual

Now the Absolute itself may be considered as constituted by the intermediation of finance, commerce, and industry. In the sphere of finance, capital is the permanent Subject, which swallows up the fleeting individual capitals, in competition, through centring its aim in the capital markets such that its systemic logic prevails. However, each sphere mediates the others and mediates itself in them. Only the whole is the Absolute Idea of Capital. In form finance is self-knowing capital, but it cannot really know need and productive activity, still less take them to be merely its own manifestation. No matter that capital subsumes them; it has to come to terms with their material potential.

The universal as the common basis of all the many capitals is not a mental abstraction for the theorist to classify the real capitals, it exists as a real structure binding them in practice. This is given implicitly in their identity with each other as merely amounts of the same substance, namely value incarnate in money. But this universal moment has to be made explicit and dominant in the capital markets predicated on the separation of finance capital from industrial capital.

In order to realise its concept, capital must posit itself doubly: as fluidly universal, on the one hand, and in determinate shapes of existence, on the other. If capital is to act in accordance with its Idea there has to be a place where it is fixed (in industry) and a place where it is in solution (in the money market).

In sum the universality of capital as self-specifying is exemplified in the capital markets where amounts are lent to individual firms for their own purposes, yet controlled by the general interest of capital in profit. Thus these ‘many capitals’ are considered not just as instances of the class of ‘capitals’, but they are subsumed by universal capital as its determinations through a real process such as we find in the relationship of the financial system to the singular individual capitals that are constituted as capitals by the loans they take out from this pool of aggregate social capital. This is in truth a concrete universal uniting all capitals in a single system.

What makes a totality an Individual rather than a mere collection? Obviously a relative totality in which everything affects everything else is clearly not an individual; for that to obtain, the whole must be centred such that a moment of decision is located, which determines the particulars to which the universal is to determine itself.

Formally the moment of individuality is given when bringing together the moment of the universal as the financial system and particularity as the circuits of total social capital, so as to constitute the capitalist system as a unitary whole. The system is centred: the financial system is not only as such the universal moment distinct from the characteristic particularity of industrial capitals, but it is also the centre of the system, where bankers assess the viability of specific applications for loans, albeit it is displaced from the real source of growth.

When ‘Capital’ as such takes shape as such a unitary system, it is Individual. In its universality, as well as the folding out of particularity into singulars, the latter fold back in, to constitute, not the simple immediate universal they descend from, but a concrete concept, totalising particularity and singularity. We see this moment existing independently in the capital markets. Here capital is distributed and redistributed. Logically, the many single capitals are particular internal divisions of one total social capital, albeit that this divides itself into many single capitals, each concerned with generating its own particular profit through its own particular circuit.

Just as the self-determination of each incarnation of the capital concept is secured through the moment of self-reference in its circuit so does the capital system achieve its reflected unity as a totality of capitals in the financial system, taken as a unity centred in a capital market, with its prevailing rate of interest.

Remark Capitalism is essentially a monetary system, and as it has developed this has become more, not less, the case. The enormous impact of money, and its movements, on the totality of capitalist relations must be acknowledged. In particular, it is crucial to distinguish between theories of money in which it is figured as a passive mediator of other forces, and theories of ‘active’ money, in which, as finance, it initiates the hegemonic circuit of the capitalist economy, and, as ‘abstract wealth’, it sets itself as the aim of that circuit. The importance of money as active cannot be overstated. Money rules. It is the form in which capital, as self-valorising value, measures itself against itself. This prefigures the dominance of buying in order to sell in developed capitalist relations. In M–C–M′, money cannot possibly be seen as passive because a monetary increment is set as the aim of the circuit. Money is the most active thing there is in the economy, and an important goal of any theory of money should be to explain this.

§93.2 The Elliptical Movement of Capital

I have argued that capital is one. Logically there is nothing to stop all the many capitals merging into one giant firm, because they differ formally only in magnitude, an ‘external’ determination easily sublated in their aggregation. However, capital is particularised in two different ways: while ideally each capital exists as ‘an amount’ (what a firm is ‘valued at’) of a homogenous substance, materially each capital is invested in some special business that sets it apart from others.

It is because of the essential unity of capital that theory claims to have achieved a concrete account of it only once it is shown, however abstractly, to reproduce itself through systemic determinations. But this requires the material differentiation of departments of capitalist reproduction. However, the double nature of capital as both ideal and material, creates a systemic absurdity. The point of production is the ultimate origin of economic growth; but the self-reference of capital is displaced to the sphere of finance. This derangement puts the financial system at the centre of affairs. (At present it is centred on Wall Street and the unity achieved in the capital markets.)

So the difficult issue that arises in this last part of the dialectic of capital is the relation between finance capital, ruling the capital markets, and industrial capital, the site of the ultimate production of capital. In one sense the matter seems simple; if all profit originates in production then the tribute exacted from industry by other fractions of capital in virtue of their specific functions must surely be a secondary issue, no matter how they legitimate their share. But it is not so simple, because the moment of decision lies with the capital markets where industry seeks funds for expansion. An individual capital measures itself against itself in its monetary increment, and more especially the rate at which it is generated. But it is the whole system that judges the adequacy of that rate, whether it is above or below the general rate. Ultimately the performance of all capital is assessed in the sphere of finance, in monetary terms. This is the explicit existence of the universality of capital, in a specific moment of the whole.

There is little doubt that, if capital is ‘Spirit’ in some sense, the financial sphere is its centre. But the ideal determinations overlap the material ones only in their displacement. The material interface is at the point of production where capital has the task of appropriating otherness. This double-centredness of capital naturally creates considerable grinding in its gearing because the requirements of each are not necessarily in harmony. The problem lies deeper than a mere quarrel over a redistribution of the surplus; it is an ontological issue; the political representatives of each fraction of capital are subjectively convinced that their position is central to the success of the system, and each has reason.

As the conscious centre of decision in the system, in the money market, finance capital is the embodiment of the spirit of capitalism. Accordingly, here capital as the Absolute Idea realises itself as a conscious appropriation of a real content.

A centred totality seems the perfect figure of the totalisation by capital of all productive activity. But it might appear that industry has lost its central place once finance capital comes to the fore, and makes money from all kinds of circuits, not just the meta-circuit incorporating the industrial circuit. This is indeed true, as far as pure form is concerned. The financial sector passes judgement on the performance of industry. But the financial sphere is still entangled with (rather than fully penetrating) industry and commerce.

However, materially, the source of all surplus ultimately derives from exploited labour. So the claim of industry is surely vindicated. But in truth these two centres struggle for dominance. Indeed, we may speak of rival centres of the spiral of capital accumulation. In this sense, the movement of capital is not circular but elliptical.

The constellation of industry, finance, and commerce is the nearest thing we have to an Absolute, but it is not quite as self-transparent, and free, as that. It is true that with finance capital the system achieves a version of self-determination in that the capital markets give shape to the moment of decision. But the original fracture between ideality and materiality remains. It is expressed now in that the movement of the system has two centres (possibly three because of need and demand), namely finance and industry, each exerting their own specific demands, with an obscure, conflictual, and shifting, relation between these two poles. Self-knowing capital in the financial sector lacks real knowledge of the problems addressed by industry exploiting workers. In the capital markets the ‘spirit of capitalism’ knows itself only ideally, blind to its ultimate conditions of existence in the labour process. Only the objective system of the circuit of industrial capital ensures the reproduction of the system as a whole by ensuring accumulation. From this point of view finance is a moment separated off so that capital can get a measure of its success. But finance looks at industry as just one avenue for investment because its abstract form loses sight of the material conditions of existence.

It is notable that in the capital market, capital takes itself as its own content, when it is treated as a quasi-commodity to be traded and hoarded. Hence this return into its own logical interior looks like the closure of the system. But in another sense the system is open. For the centre of the capital system is subject to refraction; ideally capital is immediate interest-bearing capital, but this is parasitic on the surplus value arising in the industrial sphere; so the financial system and the industrial system are in uneasy combination. The system has competing centres; hence its movement is that of an ellipse. This ellipse is the consequence of the dual ontology of capital, formally self-centred but materially other-centred.

What, then, is the centre of the capital system? On one reading it is the financial system, which mobilises and distributes capital. On another reading it is industry, as the site of the ultimate origin of surplus value and of revolutions in the mode of production. These act in concert clearly, but often conflict; thus the two circles cannot map one another congruently. Rather the effectivity of each is registered separately as two poles around which capital moves in elliptical fashion.

But how is the whole system to be characterised, namely that of capital as an Individual, if both finance and industry could be seen as the all-embracing moment, reducing the other moments to complementary moments within which it is mediated? But it seems that if both effectively strive to rule there is no unitary individual and we see the logical basis for fractions of the capitalist class jostling for dominance. (Moreover, these face the working class as implicitly a countervailing subject.)

The issue may be posed neatly as follows: do we have a genuine unity-in-separation (in which the differences find their place as substantially one with the whole) or do we have a separation-in-unity (in which the different spheres are in unity with each other but retain irreducibly other determinations)?

§93.3 Capital as Absolute Idea

Once industry is situated in the meta-circuit initiated by bank finance, the original notion of the circuit of capital must be reconsidered. The three versions of the circuit, of which the monetary circuit was only one, were taken as complementary readings of figure of the circuit. But now, with the externalisation of the moments of the circuit into their own shapes of existence, we may rightly prioritise the money-capital circuit. This has priority because finance for firms is created ex nihilo and is required for the real possibility of industrial growth. At the same time it must be allowed that the totality is decentred because it is productive capital that generates the surplus through applying the knowledge, and cooperation, of social labour. (Moreover, the standpoint of commodity capital must not be forgotten because it links all the circuits together in a social whole of material reproduction.)

Capital is a self-moving system of form, which takes possession of the material economy and determines its logic of development. For the power of formal determination of the material world by the ideal form normally overcomes its recalcitrance to capital’s purpose. The form of capital shapes matter into a content adequate to its aim. Capitalists and workers are merely the bearers of the economic relation prescribed for them by capital. However, in no way is it the destiny of labour to achieve its perfection in wage labour. Rather this determination is forced upon it because of the ‘doubly free’ status of the labourer, itself reproduced in the capital relation. The material world is posited by the capital Idea as its inorganic body. Insofar as the material world has its own laws, capital employs ‘the cunning of reason’ to adapt these potentials to alien purposes.

While the Idea of capital seems Absolute, in the sense of grounded on itself in form, as such it is merely an abstract Absolute, because it forms itself separately from its material substrate. However, while it is not the form of that matter, the Idea forms it into an adequate basis. This process of formal determination of the economic metabolism constitutes the concretisation of capital. The all-embracing moment is that of form. Even if the system is materially dependent on surplus labour, it is the formal determinations that subsume and regulate living labour.

Earlier (in §71) I showed that an individual capital may rightly be characterised as an individual subject. However, I speak here of capital as ‘subject’ without consciousness or personality. I start from the minimal definition: that a subject is capable of comprehending things under the universal. Then it has an immanent end implicit in its being. The posited unity of the concept is the logical skeleton of subjectivity, although of course the moment of ‘will’ is required to effect the self-determination of such a subject. (The required consciousness and will are attributes of the capitalist.)

Remark In one sense this is ‘a process without a subject’; but I claim that there is indeed a good sense in which capital is a subject, albeit that it takes shape as a spectre. Just as money is posited as the actuality of value in autonomous form, so capital is the spectral existence of self-valorising value.

Now I further claim that total social capital may itself be considered as ‘Individual’; and here I wish to speak (without considering it merely a figure of speech) of it as a unitary ‘social subject’. This is the appropriate designation for the whole system that faces us. For what faces us is not a class of capitals but a single whole determining itself to ever-changing specific shapes. Capital is ‘the enemy’ in a different sense from that in which Disease is an enemy. The latter is a personified class name for empirically distinct diseases that have enough in common to group and personify. But ‘Capital’ (with a big ‘C’, so to speak) has a reality as an individual whole. It is not just a class term for Ford, Shell, Apple, etc. These are not so much members of a set as they are capital’s own concretisations in numerically separable shapes which nonetheless are constituted as organic parts of the totality and move within it. The Idea of Capital is not a collation of these many capitals; it is a concrete unity, a totality, that persists in and through its effectivity upon them.


This chapter treats the culmination of the capital Concept as formally Absolute. To begin with (§91) it is shown that the nothingness, which the presentation up to now has implicitly sought to ground, appears explicitly in the shape of ex nihilo money, created by the banking system. It is liberated from any attachment to a commodity; it exists as pure form. It appears only in the dialectic of the absolute relation of value to value, that is to say, of credit to debit. In principle these collapse to zero; but capital sustains them in their difference, albeit they are the same thing given positively and negatively. Present as different, their relation has economic effectivity. Finance supplied to industry becomes active in its circuit and generates a surplus. Here there is a temporal inversion in that value exists prior to its becoming the value of anything, for example a produced commodity. Value is now truly grounded on itself.

In the following section (§92) the inner moments of the circuit of capital are shown to gain autonomous existence in finance, commerce, and industry. Here the form-determination of industry requires the presence of certain ‘ideal’ forms, namely ‘ante-validation’ of production by banks, and ‘pre-commensuration’ of valorised value by capital.

In the final section (§93) the Absolute Idea of capital comprehends the whole as itself Individual. But is its movement a spiral of accumulation which presupposes a definite centre? Here the dual ontology of capital asserts itself again. The financial system, as the centre of decision (as ‘Absolute Spirit’, so to speak) appears to itself as the be-all and end-all. But it is only industry, as it appropriates the material metabolism of the economy, that creates a surplus product. Without this there could be no profits. As such, capital is characterised by an objective aporia: is it to be seen as a unity-in-separation or a separation-in-unity? In truth, then, capital is double-centred; hence its movement is elliptical.

Finally it is claimed that the system of capital is a unitary social subject. ‘Capital’ is not merely a class term for the many capitals; it is itself the totality facing us as such.


See Reuten 2019, p. 113.


For Marx on the credit system see Campbell 2002a, pp. 212–27.


See Reuten 2019, p. 147, p. 172.


For penetrating discussion of the category of ‘ante-validation’ see the work of Riccardo Bellofiore: Bellofiore 2004, pp. 188–9; Bellofiore 2019, p. 531. Also see on ‘pre-validation’ Reuten and Williams 1989, pp. 83–4, and Reuten 2019, p. 686.


This is an important point in Bellofiore’s reconstruction of Marx’s monetary theory; it allows him to finesse problems that are supposed to arise if theory abandons the assumption that money is a commodity. See Bellofiore 2004, p. 200; 2018, pp. 353–88.


Reuten 2019, pp. 187–8.


Suzanne de Brunhoff speaks of a ‘special monetary circuit’: de Brunhoff 2015, p. 20.


See Reuten and Williams 1989, p. 67, Reuten 2019, pp. 56–7.

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