Notebook 7 and endnotes
“Capital absorbs labour into itself as though its body were by love possessed” (704). So says Karl Marx as he continues his reflections on the way capitalism runs. The original phrase in German says that capitalism absorbs labour “als hätte es Lieb im Leibe,” which is a quotation from Goethe’s Faust. The translation modifies some nuances of the original. That is, als hätte es Lieb im Leibe suggests that capital has a body, or it behaves as a body. While the nuance between original and translation certainly deserves a closer look, both fragments stress the fact that something that both exceeds and presupposes capitalism is moving it. To explain this something that is always escaping, this scurrilous thing, Marx relies on the figure of contradiction. For him capitalism, and society, can only be explained by contradictions. The mechanism of this contradiction in capitalism consists on pressing “to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, and the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth” (706). That means that something rather unknown happens in the process of extracting wealth out of the exploitation and domination of workers.
Throughout the Grundrisse Marx works on different ways to explain how production becomes reproduction as, perhaps, one of the main mechanisms that capitalism has at its sway. The relationship between production and reproduction consists in presupposing that capitalism must always circle and repeat its processes. No wonder why most of the examples used by Marx are those of the agricultural industry. If a harvest can be manipulated and controlled via the domination of workers by forcing them to sell their labour force, then, agriculture shows itself to be the industry par excellence of capitalism. In contrast to agriculture, mining is conceived by Marx as an industry that lacks the possibility to be understood via the idea of reproduction. “Extractive industry (mining the most important) is likewise and industry sui generis, because no reproduction process whatever takes place in it, at least not one under our control or known to us” (726). Extraction is, then, a mechanism that is always precapitalist but also integral to it because it means of creating wealth do not lie on reproduction’s realm. The fact that we cannot fully known what happens with a mine, that the earth and its minerals cannot be fully controlled, resonates with the way capitalism absorbs labour, “as though its body were by love possessed” (704), as if an unknown force were igniting production.
It seems, at least from the last Notebook and the end notes (“On Value” and “Bastiat and Carey”) that there is not really a true certainty on how capitalism works, or what really moves it. At best, as perhaps in other works of Marx, we can see the effects of capitalism, but never it “truly” origin, or motivation. Notebook 7 offers a particular image of capital, as a circle and “by describing its circle it expands itself as the subject of the circle and thus describes a self-expanding circle, a spiral” (746). This image carries a certain degree of determinism and also ties life to capital. If capitalism is directly tied to grow, or life, then, there is something faustic, (as the quote mentioned above from Goethe suggests), about this mode of production, since everything in life is but a process of grow and eventual vanishment, of crack-up. Capital promises a never-ending grow. The problem is that this promise is but a fiction. But why would we chose to believe it?