Capital and labor
Platypus Review 126 | May 2020
ACCORDING TO MARX, capitalism is the contradiction of bourgeois social relations and industrial forces of production. The effect of this self-contradiction of bourgeois society in industrial production is the division of capital and labor. It is from this division that the opposed classes of capitalists and workers derive. The class struggle between workers and capitalists is a phenomenon — the phenomenal expression — of the self-contradiction of capitalism. It expresses labor’s contradiction with itself — which is also capital’s contradiction with itself. When referring to “capital and labor” there are actually just two forms of capital — Marx called these “variable and constant” as well as “fixed and circulating” capital — and both refer to labor — Marx called capital “alienated labor.” Labor and capital are two aspects of the same thing in capitalism. The bourgeois social relations of production are the social relations of labor.
The usual oppositions posed by the labor movement and by socialism, such as profit vs. human needs (and the needs of the natural world beyond humanity), are expressions of this self-contradiction of society in capitalism, the needs of capital as opposed to the needs of labor. The contradiction of capital is not external but internal.
Marx described capitalism as “false necessity.” What he meant by this was not simply wrong necessity, but rather self-contradictory necessity. For the needs of capital and the needs of labor are the same. In becoming opposed in capitalism, there is the conflict of labor with itself as well as of capital with itself.
In capitalist politics, there is another phenomenon — expression — of capital’s self-contradiction, namely, the disputes among capitalist politicians over government policy, which can also express conflicting interests of different capitalists, including different sectors of industry, between different capitalist nation-states, etc. Workers employed in different occupations as well as in industries can thus have different and conflicting interests, competing over the priorities of social investment in capital. The opposed aspects of capital — and of labor — are inseparable. Labor cannot be extricated from capital any more than capital can be from labor.
The goal of socialism is to realize capital as well as labor — to negate labor as well as capital. It is to realize as well as negate — overcome — capitalist necessity. What would such Aufhebung [sublation] mean?
Discontents in capitalism take various different and even opposed forms. The history of socialism itself as well as the history of capitalism expresses self-contradictory desires and goals. At different moments in the history of capitalism, the goals of socialism have taken various different and indeed opposed forms. For instance, socialism has variously regarded its goals as realizing the potential of capitalist production as opposed to abolishing capitalist production: achieving hyper-industrialism versus returning to subsistence primitivism have both found home at one time or place or another in the struggle for socialism. Socialism could be defined as both and neither of the opposed alternatives that capitalism generates as its own positive goals and its own self-negations. All the various opposed demands arising from the discontents in capitalism will be both fulfilled and negated — overcome — in socialism.
Capital seeks to abolish labor and labor seeks to abolish capital — but more importantly in capitalism capital seeks to abolish itself and labor seeks to abolish itself. By making labor more productive it becomes less necessary; by producing excess capital it becomes more superfluous — less a real measure of social value. Labor seeks to abolish itself in capitalism, and thus to abolish capital, tasking socialism.
Only by encompassing the wide variety of discontents within the working class and across the history of its developments in capitalism could the political movement for socialist revolution to overcome capitalism become adequate to its task and mission, by becoming conscious of it. Since capital is the product of labor and labor the product of capital, this would mean encompassing the divisions among the capitalists as well as within capitalism itself as a total movement of society. The achievement of socialist revolution would be when the working class can take responsibility politically for capitalism as a whole. In so doing, the working class would confront the choices posed by the contradictions of capitalism that are otherwise expressed by the conflicts between the different capitalists and thus among workers of the world. All the conflicts exhibited in the world must be grasped as expressions and various forms of the self-contradiction of capitalism. Such conflicts are necessary — to be overcome.
The false necessity of capitalism as self-contradictory but opposed real needs can only be truly engaged and overcome from the standpoint of universal world history. This can only take place from within the social antagonisms of capitalism, and not from partial, single-sided aspects of its contradictory totality.
The “workers of the world must unite” because the world is united in its self-contradiction and crisis in capitalism. The laborers must themselves take up and overcome the social relations of labor in crisis in capitalism by assuming the socialist political responsibility for capital that is eluded by capitalist politics.
Otherwise, the social conflicts in capitalism — between and among its capitalists and workers — will reproduce its contradictions forever. | P
 Please see my prior articles on “Robots and sweatshops,” Platypus Review #123 (February 2020), available online at: <https://platypus1917.org/2020/02/01/robots-and-sweatshops/>; and “Jobs and free stuff,” PR #124 (March 2020), available online at: <https://platypus1917.org/2020/03/01/jobs-and-free-stuff/>, of which this is meant to be the third and final entry in the series.
 See the articles in the Platypus Review issue #125 (April 2020) published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first observation of Earth Day, April 22 (the same date as Lenin’s birthday), in 1970 (thus on the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s birth in 1870), available online at: <https://platypus1917.org/category/pr/issue-125/>.
 See my “Capital in history: The need for a Marxian philosophy of history of the Left,” Platypus Review #7 (October 2008), available online at: <https://platypus1917.org/2008/10/01/capital-in-history-the-need-for-a-marxian-philosophy-of-history-of-the-left/>.