capitalism, exploitation, ideology, Marx, society, surplus value

Socioeconomics and Ideology

At first glance, the two spheres of human existence seem hardly even to touch one another. The socioeconomic situation in a given society already seems so material, so concrete, that the lofty abstractions and vainglorious rationalizations of political ideology seem almost as excrement of the functioning of the political economy, culture as mass-produced fractured residue of the production process, as a consumptive afterthought, called in only to justify, explain, speculate about or apologize for the status quo.
It is Capital‘s great triumph to link the social and economic struggle of the oppressed against the priveleged to the self-serving political agendas of the warlords of the global economy, to the central ideology of capitalism itself. The guiding principle of capitalism is expansion, accumulation, increase in the production and extraction of surplus value– it is surplus, unpaid labor which furnishes the basis of accumulation and essential direction of capitalist expansion. Capitalism can only expand through greater and greater social and economic exploitation of labor. Marx gives the general law of capitalist accumulation, which is NOT some kind of natural law, as a relationship between capital, accumulation and the rate of wages. In this selection, he demonstrates a fundamental barrier to wage increases–that for the system to work there must be a critical amount of unpaid labor which turns into profit–which allows the foundation and endless reproduction of the capitalist political economy. Marx only briefly notes the possibility of an alternative state of affairs as an “inverse situation, in which wealth is there to satisfy the worker’s own need for development.” Instead, like in religion where we are governed by ideas we make up, in capitalistm, we are governed by the law of commodity-fetishism. The mode of production turns labor into a commodity that workers are forced to sell at a loss:

The relation between capital, accumulation and the rate of wages is nothing other than the relation between the unpaid labor which has been transformed into capital and the additional paid labor necessary to set in motion this additional capital. It is therefore in no way a relation between two magnitudes which are mutually independent, i.e., between the magnitude of the capital and the numbers of the working population; it is rather, at bottom, only the relation between the unpaid and the paid labor of the same working population. If the quantity of unpaid labor supplied by the working class and accumulated by the capitalist class increases so rapidly that its transformation into capital requires an extraordinary addition of paid labor, then wages rise and, all other circumstances remaining equal, the unpaid labor diminishes in proportion. But as soon as this diminution touches the point at which the surplus labor that nourishes capital is no longer supplied in normal quantity, a reaction sets in: a smaller part of revenue is capitalized, accumulation slows doewn, and the rising movement of wages comes up against an obstacle. The rise of wages is therefore confined within limits that not only leave intact the foundations of the capitalist system, but also secure its reproduction on an increasing scale. The law of capitalist accumulation, mystified by the economists into a supposed law of nature, in fact expresses the situation that the very nature of accumulation excludes every diminution in the degree of exploitation of labor, and every rise in the price of labor, which could seriously imperil the continual reproduction, on an ever larger scale, of the capital-relation… Just as man is governed, in religion, by the products of his own brain, so, in capitalist production, he is governed by the products of his own hand.

(See also: Cambridge Capital Controversy)


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