The initial condition of capitalist production that the owner of the means of production is able to buy labour-power from a worker that is dispossessed of the means of production, is itself perpetually reproduced by this process of simple reproduction.
“On the one hand, the process of production incessantly converts material wealth into capital, into means of creating more wealth and means of enjoyment for the capitalist. On the other hand, the labourer, on quitting the process, is what he was on entering it, a source of wealth, but devoid of all means of making that wealth his own. Since, before entering on the process, his own labour has already been alienated from himself by the sale of his labour-power, has been appropriated by the capitalist and incorporated with capital, it must, during the process, be realised in a product that does not belong to him. Since the process of production is also the process by which the capitalist consumes labour-power, the product of the labourer is incessantly converted, not only into commodities, but into capital, into value that sucks up the value-creating power, into means of subsistence that buy the person of the labourer, into means of production that command the producers. The labourer therefore constantly produces material, objective wealth, but in the form of capital, of an alien power that dominates and exploits him; and the capitalist as constantly produces labour-power, but in the form of a subjective source of wealth, separated from the objects in and by which it can alone be realised; in short he produces the labourer, but as a wage labourer. This incessant reproduction, this perpetuation of the labourer, is the sine quâ non of capitalist production.” (p 535-6)
In the process, the worker consumes in two different ways. Firstly, his productive activity consumes the means of production. This is productive consumption. This process is also a process of productive consumption by the capitalist, because as well as the means of production he bought being consumed, the labour-power of the worker he has bought is also consumed.
In order to reproduce that labour-power, the wages paid by the capitalist to the worker goes to buy commodities such as food, clothing and shelter, which the worker consumes. This is the workers' individual consumption.
“The labourer consumes in a two-fold way. While producing he consumes by his labour the means of production, and converts them into products with a higher value than that of the capital advanced. This is his productive consumption. It is at the same time consumption of his labour-power by the capitalist who bought it. On the other hand, the labourer turns the money paid to him for his labour-power, into means of subsistence: this is his individual consumption. The labourer’s productive consumption, and his individual consumption, are therefore totally distinct. In the former, he acts as the motive power of capital, and belongs to the capitalist. In the latter, he belongs to himself, and performs his necessary vital functions outside the process of production. The result of the one is, that the capitalist lives; of the other, that the labourer lives.” (p 536)
In another sense, and particularly in the early stages of capitalist production, when the length of the working day means the worker lives only to work, the workers' individual consumption has no other purpose than to reproduce his labour-power, and so his own individual consumption, is itself productive consumption.
Viewed from the perspective of capital as a whole, rather than the individual capitalist, it can be seen that capital benefits in two ways. On the one hand, capital benefits from the output of the worker. On the other hand, capital benefits by selling that output to the worker required for their reproduction. The process of consumption by the worker to enable them to continue working, is in reality a necessary element in the production process. It is no different to supplying energy to a machine, or food to an animal.
From the perspective of the individual capitalist, however, the aim is to keep the amount paid to ensure this reproduction to a minimum. But, it has to be remembered that this minimum is not an absolute minimum as Ferdinand Lassalle believed in formulating his Iron Law of Wages. It is a relative minimum determined by what is required to ensure that labour-power is reproduced in both the quantity and quality required by Capital.
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