F. Forest

Correspondence ...

[On Luxemburg’s Theory of Accumulation]

(April 1947)

From Vol. XIII No. 4, April 1947, pp. 124–125.
Transcribed & marked up: Einde O’Callaghan for marxists.org.


In the February 1947 issue of The New International there appears an abbreviated letter by W.H. Emmett of Australia, in criticism of my articles on Luxemburg’s Theory of Accumulation, which were published in the April and May 1946 issues. In all fairness to Comrade Emmett it should be stated that in the unabridged letter he wrote that of the fifteen books I quoted, “ten of these works are out of my reach completely.” Among these were Luxemburg’s Theory of Accumulation or her Anti-critique; Marx’s Theories of Surplus Value; Lenin’s dispute with the Narodniki; and Bukharin’s answer to Luxemburg’s work on accumulation. He also wrote that in Anti-Dühring he could not find the passage quoted. (The page number was wrongly listed as 349; it should have been 312–3.) Consequently, he was tendering his criticism on the basis of the three volumes of Capital [Vol. I, Vol. II & Vol. III]. Without this pertinent bit of information, some of the statements in Emmett’s criticism become incomprehensible.

For example, he writes:

“The phenomenon of accumulating capital is quite independent of a ‘closed society’ and quite independent of any pre-capitalist or ‘non-capitalist surroundings.’” (My emphasis – F.F.)

Now, if I agreed with him, this would in no way change the fact that (1) Marx posited his theory of accumulation of capital in a closed society, and (2) that the very lifestream of Luxemburg’s theory of accumulation, which she counterposed to that of Marx, ran through “non-capitalist surroundings.” How then could I write a restatement of Marx’s theory and a critique of Luxemburg’s as if the accumulation of capital were “quite independent of any pre-capitalist or non-capitalist surroundings”?

Emmett proceeds doggedly down his own road, insisting that while the idea of a closed society (i.e., a society consisting only of workers and capitalists, from which both “third groups” and foreign trade are excluded) “might be correct in some sense or other ..., it does not seem capable of any proper application” in the question of capitalist accumulation. And he concludes:

“Forest’s reference to ‘the exclusion of foreign trade as having nothing to do fundamentally with’ the class conflict also seems rather forced ... But now if ‘foreign trade’ were always to be ‘excluded,’ even to the extent that ‘Marx would not be moved from his premise,’ how could Marx tell us that foreign trade is an indispensable part of capitalist production!”

Since I presented nothing new in my study that had not previously been stated by Marx and defended by Lenin, I will let Lenin give the answer. Although, Lenin wrote, “it is impossible to imagine a capitalist nation without foreign trade because there is no such nation,” nevertheless “The theory of realization must take for its construction a closed capitalist society, i.e., to abstract the process of expansion of capitalism from our countries ...” Otherwise, one would fall into the trap of the petty-bourgeois critics who base their critique of capitalism on “the incorrectness of circulation,” whereas “it is necessary to base this on the character of the evolution of production relations.” (Collected Works, I, pp. 32–3, Vol. I, pp. 40, 419–20, in Russian – my emphasis, F.F.)

Emmett can think that the question of accumulation can be considered both independently from the question of a closed society and from the question of “third groups” only because he has transformed the question of accumulation from a problem of production, that is class, relation, to a mere technical question. To him accumulation of capital “just means the increasing capital outfit of any employer at all, or any industrial capital in general.” Hence, he can come to the conclusion:

“The question as to which or what capital or where should never arise. The formula, or label, c + v + s, definitely and quite sufficiently marks off the capital under discussion as industrial capital, otherwise standard capital.”

It was, however, not I, but Marx, who made the point that:

“It is not the quantity but the destination of the given elements of simple reproduction, which is changed, and this change is the material basis of a subsequent reproduction on an enlarged scale.” (Capital, II, p. 592.)

So insistent was Marx in demonstrating that it is not the thing, or quantity (c plus v plus s) which was important, but the relationship (c to v) that he began his first diagrammatic presentation of expanded reproduction by choosing a total whose absolute volume was smaller than that of simple reproduction!

Accumulation and Crises

In viewing the complex question of accumulation as if it “just means the increasing capital outfit of any employer at all,” Emmett is sweeping aside Marx’s greatest contribution to the theory of expanded reproduction, his division of the whole of social production into but two major departments: Department I producing means of production and Department II producing means of consumption. It is this division which enables Marx to cut through the whole tangle of markets and to show that:

“The difficulty, then, does not consist in the analysis of the social product in values. It arises in the comparison of the component parts of the value of the social product with its material elements.” (Capital, II, p. 499)

The contradiction between the value and material forms of capital erupts in crises. For Emmett, however, this whole problem does not exist. He writes in an offhand manner:

“It seems necessary to notice that ‘Accumulation’ is not any direct cause of the crises. So far from ‘Accumulation’ being directly the cause of crises, the subject of ‘Accumulation,’ etc., is broached by Marx in his Volume II only well after he had already demonstrated how the non-confirming and unruly fixed capital was causing the crises.”

Now, the fact that Marx deals with crises before he comes to the question of accumulation or expanded production in not at all due to the fact that accumulation “is not any direct causes of crises” but because Marx’s whole method of presentation of the problem rests on the fact that if you fully understand the problem of simple reproduction, expanded reproduction will present no difficulties, for there are no new problems in expanded reproduction that aren’t implicitly present in simple reproduction. Accumulation of capital aggravates the contradictions of capitalism and brings them to the breaking point. But the innermost cause of crises remains the fact that labor, in the process of production, and not in the market, creates a greater value than it itself is. And that the ever greater portion of the surplus value extracted from the worker goes back into producing ever greater quantities of constant capital, or what Emmett calls “the non-conforming and unruly fixed capital.” But so directly is this accumulation of capital connected with crises that Marx devotes the better part of one of his volumes of Theories of Surplus Value to this very problem. If Emmett is unaware of the most famous portion of Marx’s Theories Accumulation of Capital and Crises – he should not be unaware of the fact that the part to which he himself refers to in Volume III of Capital (The Law of the Falling Tendency of the Rate of Profit) is so wholly immersed in the accumulation of capital and crises that it could very well bear such a sub-title. Volume III, as Comrade Emmett must know, was written as Book III of Volume II of Capital. Emmett and I seem indeed to be speaking in entirely different languages not only insofar as the vast Marxist literature on the subject of accumulation is concerned, but insofar as Marx’s theory itself is concerned. The theory remains, for him, not only unconnected from crises but from class conflict.

“There is no sort of mention about any conflict of persons,” he writes, “the real ‘conflict’ in question is merely one of conditions, and such conflict of conditions is one of the Internal Contradictions in the operation of the ‘law,’ the ‘falling tendency of the rate of profit.’”

I rubbed my eyes and reread the above passage a half dozen times before I could believe what r saw black on white. Emmett, please, doesn’t the conflict of conditions refer to the conflict of the production relationship between capital and labor? What else does the famous passage of Marx in that very chapter refer to?

The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is the fact that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and closing point, as the motive and aim of production, that production is merely production for capital and not vice versa, the means of production mere means for the ever expanding system of the life process for the benefit of the society of producers.” (Capital, III, p. 293)

In analyzing the “Internal Contradictions in the operation of the ‘law,’ the ‘falling tendency of the rate of profit.’” wasn’t Marx’s whole point to prove that:

“It is here demonstrated in a purely economic way, that is, from a bourgeois point of view, within the confines of capitalist understanding, from the standpoint of capitalist production itself, that it has a barrier, that it is relative, that it is not an absolute, but only a historical mode of production corresponding to a definite and limited epoch in the development of the material conditions of production.” (Ibid., pp. 304–5)

How can a Marxist limit himself to these very confines! This, it seems to me, could be done only under the conditions that, for Emmett, the theory of value is just an economic theory unconnected with the class struggle. Emmett can write: “Despite her wide research, Forest’s two articles will not withstand much economic probing or analysis,” only because, for him, Marx’s economic doctrine is completely divorced from his conception of the historical limitations of capitalist society and the inevitability of the proletarian revolution.

F. Forest


Last updated on 10 June 2017