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Book proposal: Marx’s Fetters and the Realm of Freedom: a remedial reading — part 2.1

Der Gefesselte Marx

Karl Marx’s preface to A
Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
contains the best-known
description of his theory of history. At some point contradiction between the
relations of production and the forces of production become fetters on the latter,
ushering in a period of social revolution. The traditional interpretation is
that the social revolution will unleash technological advances that enable
industrial production to expand by “leaps and bounds,” even as free time for
workers also increases. Marx’s description, however, specifically referred to a
general conclusion he had reached in the 1840s that “became the guiding
principle of my studies.” He did not suggest it was a précis of those
subsequent studies. In the Grundrisse, Marx had developed a much more
detailed analysis of the fetters capital both posits and overcomes, based on
the remarkable premise that “the development of all wealth rests on the
creation of disposable time.” In that analysis, it is not a greater quantity of
manufactured goods that is fettered by the capitalist relations of production
but the emancipation of the social individual.

In the Grundrisse,
Marx enumerated what the specifically capitalist fetters were:

These inherent
limits have to coincide with the nature of capital, with the essential
character of its very concept. These necessary limits are:

(1) Necessary
as limit on the
exchange value of living labour capacity or of the wages of the industrial

(2) Surplus
as limit on
surplus labour time; and, in regard to relative surplus labour time, as barrier
to the development of the forces of production;

(3) What is the
same, the
transformation into money, exchange value as such, as limit of
production; or exchange founded on value, or value founded on exchange, as
limit of production.

This is:

(4) again the same
restriction of the production of use values by exchange value; or that real wealth has to take on a specific form distinct from itself, a form not
absolutely identical with it, in order to become an object of production at

“However, these
limits,” Marx added, “come up against the general tendency of capital… to
forget and abstract from…” these very same limits! The result is inevitably
overproduction, not simply in the sense of an excess inventory but of a
generalized industrial overcapacity of both means of production and labour



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