46. We Can’t Blame Nature for Capital…

As chapter I of Capital comes towards its close Marx makes some more suggestions as to how a socialist society might look, and considers the fetishisation of value and commodities from historical and other perspectives…

“The life-process of society, which is based on the process of material production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan.”

Marx sees the mode of production as that which defines the life of a society. In the case of capitalism there is an owning class and a worker class which produces value for its own wage slavery, and to keep the owning class in a position of social power. These social relations will be overcome along with the fetishisation of values and commodities in a society of ‘freely associated’ people who will work to produce to a planned economy, ie. not the random competitiveness of capitalism.

“This, however, demands for society a certain material ground-work or set of conditions of existence which in their turn are the spontaneous product of a long and painful process of development.” 

Marx indicates that societies will have to go through developments to reach that stage, including, in his scheme of development, a bourgeois stage with its technological development, productiveness and distinct class structure. The process is long and painful as it involves class struggles and conflicts: the bourgeoisie had to overthrow the old world order of the aristocratic ruling class as the working class now will have to resist and overthrow the bourgeois ruling class in the next phase of democratic and socio-economic development.

“Political Economy has indeed analysed, however incompletely, value and its magnitude, and has discovered what lies beneath these forms. But it has never once asked the question why labour is represented by the value of its product and labour time by the magnitude of that value.”

This is Marx’s central criticism of conventional economics: it doesn’t ask why workers generally create value so as to be paid wages in an exploitative amount of that value. So it ignores and/or avoids the fundamental social dynamic of the capitalist system.

“These formulæ, which bear it stamped upon them in unmistakable letters that they belong to a state of society, in which the process of production has the mastery over man, instead of being controlled by him, such formulæ appear to the bourgeois intellect to be as much a self-evident necessity imposed by Nature as productive labour itself. Hence forms of social production that preceded the bourgeois form, are treated by the bourgeoisie in much the same way as the Fathers of the Church treated pre-Christian religions.”

Bourgeois economics, academia, religion and intellectual culture generally come up with all sorts of myths and ideologies which attempt to justify the fundamental class-based exploitation of capital. Marx represents this mode of production as mastering people, rather than as being mastered by people. There is a strong coercive element to capital, which demands constant expansion and competition, and which thereby enslaves even the ruling capitalist class itself.

Bourgeois thinkers see pre-capitalist societies as religious thinkers see pre-Christian religions: as inferior and not that worthy of serious, *objective* study.

“To what extent some economists are misled by the Fetishism inherent in commodities, or by the objective appearance of the social characteristics of labour, is shown, amongst other ways, by the dull and tedious quarrel over the part played by Nature in the formation of exchange value. Since exchange value is a definite social manner of expressing the amount of labour bestowed upon an object, Nature has no more to do with it, than it has in fixing the course of exchange.”

Certain economists saw the localised conditions of nature, and the subsequent industries that arose from those conditions, as central to the development of exchange value. Marx indicates however that exchange is entirely a social matter not necessarily connected with natural resources or various forms of industry.

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