Marx’s Critique of Accelerationism – A Few Notes from Capital

etienne-jules-marey-stabhochsprung

Decided to gather a few threads from Marx on various forms of accelerationism. Obviously Marx was not an accelerationist, but rather provided a critique of capitalist accelerationist policies and enactments: acceleration of accumulation, acceleration of the production of surplus-value, the centralization that intensifies and accelerates the effects of accumulation, etc. He would see this in the light of the industrial struggle of nations on the world market, involving an accelerated development of capital which cannot be attained in the so-called natural way but only by compulsion. (see below) This sense of an unnatural compulsion as driving the accelerated development of capitalism is at the core inhuman accelerationism. This is Marx’s critique of accelerationism: that it is driven by an unconscious compulsion or drive toward greater and greater acceleration of accumulation which is both artificial and inhuman.

In the first volume of Capital Marx will say,

It will be remembered that the rate of surplus-value depends, in the first place, on the degree of exploitation of labour-power. Political economy lays such great stress on this point that it occasionally identifies the acceleration of accumulation which results from an increase in the productivity of labour with the acceleration which arises from an increase in the exploitation of the worker.1

Marx’s accelerationism is the acceleration of accumulated capital:

The continual re-conversion of surplus-value into capital now appears in the shape of the increasing magnitude of the capital that enters into the production process. This is in turn the basis of an extended scale of production, of the methods for raising the productivity of labour that accompany it, and of an accelerated production of surplus-value. If, therefore, a certain degree of accumulation of capital appears as a pre-condition for the specifically capitalist mode of production, the latter reacts back to cause an accelerated accumulation of capital.2

Marx also points out how the centralization of capital in the new stock companies accelerates the effects of accumulation:

Centralization, however, accomplished this in the twinkling of an eye, by means of joint-stock companies. And while in this way centralization intensifies and accelerates the effects of accumulation, it simultaneously extends and speeds up those revolutions in the technical composition of capital which raise its constant portion at the expense of its variable portion, thus diminishing the relative demand for labour.3

In most ways acceleration is a time-variable marker for Marx that quantifies both accumulation and composition of capital itself:

It is not merely that an accelerated accumulation of the total capital, accelerated in a constantly growing progression, is needed to absorb an additional number of workers, or even, on account of the constant metamorphosis of old capital, to keep employed those already performing their functions. This increasing accumulation and centralization also becomes in its turn a source of new changes in the composition of capital, or in other words of an accelerated diminution of the capital’s variable component, as compared with its constant one. This accelerated relative diminution of the variable component, which accompanies the accelerated increase of the total capital and moves more rapidly than this increase, takes the inverse form, at the other pole, of an apparently absolute increase in the working population, an increase which always moves more rapidly than that of the variable capital or the means of employment.4

1. Marx, Karl (2004-02-05). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1 (Classics) (Kindle Locations 10735-10738). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
2. Marx, Karl (2004-02-05). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1 (Classics) (Kindle Locations 11109-11113). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
3. Marx, Karl (2004-02-05). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1 (Classics) (Kindle Locations 11175-11178). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
4. Marx, Karl (2004-02-05). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1 (Classics) (Kindle Locations 11205-11212). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Marx further stresses in Capital Volume 2 that there exists a nexus between the trade cycle and the turnover cycle of fixed capital which is distinct from the usually mentioned one of determination grosso modo of the length of the former by that of the latter. Fixed capital expenditure is discontinuous in a double sense. Machines are replaced not piecemeal but in toto, say once every seven or ten years. Their replacement tends to occur at the same time in numerous, inter-connected key branches of industry, precisely because the process is not only, or even essentially, a function of physical wear and tear, but rather a response to financial incentives to introduce more advanced technology. These incentives coincide only at a certain point in the trade cycle; but when this occurs, there follows a massive investment in the renewal of fixed capital. This in turn sets up a dynamic of accelerated capital accumulation and economic growth, together with rapid expansion of markets, which leads finally to an increase in the organic composition of capital, a declining trend of the rate of profit and a tendency to slow down investment and renewal of fixed capital., etc.

And, finally, in Capital v.3:

But it is also the characteristic feature of the self-interested merchants and manufacturers of that time, and belongs to the period of capitalist development that they represent, that the transformation of feudal agricultural societies into industrial societies, and the resulting industrial struggle of nations on the world market, involves an accelerated development of capital which cannot be attained in the so-called natural way but only by compulsion. It makes a substantial difference whether the national capital is transformed into industrial capital gradually and slowly, or whether this transformation is accelerated in time by the taxes they impose via protective duties, principally on the landowners, small and middle peasants and artisans, by the accelerated expropriation of independent direct producers, by the forcibly accelerated accumulation and concentration of capital, in short, by the accelerated production of the conditions of the capitalist mode of production. It also makes an enormous difference in the capitalist and industrial exploitation of the nation’s natural productive power.1

Marx will speak of credit acceleration which brings both crisis as well as a dissolution of old modes of production as new modes are introduced, etc.:

The credit system hence accelerates the material development of the productive forces and the creation of the world market, which it is the historical task of the capitalist mode of production to bring to a certain level of development, as material foundations for the new form of production. At the same time, credit accelerates the violent outbreaks of this contradiction, crises, and with these the elements of dissolution of the old mode of production.2

1. Marx, Karl (1992-08-27). Capital: Critique of Political Economy v. 3 (Penguin Classics) (pp. 920-921). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
2. Marx, Karl (1992-08-27). Capital: Critique of Political Economy v. 3 (Penguin Classics) (p. 574). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

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