Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Capital I Chapter 1 - Part 3

Section 2

Different types of Use Value are produced by different types of useful or 'concrete' labour. Coats are produced by tailors, whereas linen is produced by weavers. If it were not the case that there was the difference between different types of concrete labour, if they did not have different qualities there would be no different types of Use Values either. There would only be a single type of Use Value e.g. coats. In that case, as Marx points out, there could be no exchange because coats do not exchange for coats.

So, a precondition for commodity production is the Division of Labour. But, not vice versa. Primitive societies develop a division of labour without commodity production.

Whatever the form of society, every aspect of material wealth, not provided for by Nature, is the product of concrete useful labour. It is a nature imposed necessity, without which there is no material exchange between Man and Nature. Without it there is no life.

Material wealth is a combination of the products of Nature and of Labour. As William Petty puts it, Labour is the Father and Nature the Mother. Labour is only able to bring about changes in the products of Nature.
If a coat has the same Value as 20 yards of linen, whilst both are the products of very different kinds of labour, then clearly, in order for them to be measured against each other, according to the labour-time required for their production, the labour measure cannot be the specific, concrete labour used, but only some abstract type of labour, to which all labour can be reduced.

Consider the measure we call the foot. Originally, measurements were taken using actual feet. Over time, as more accurate and consistent measures were required, an 'abstract' foot was decided upon.

Marx describes Abstract Labour as concrete labour stripped of all its specific characteristics. He also describes it as the labour any ordinary human could undertake.

It is the expenditure of simple labour power, i.e., of the labour power which, on an average, apart from any special development, exists in the organism of every ordinary individual. Simple average labour, it is true, varies in character in different countries and at different times, but in a particular society it is given.” (p51)
There is debate over the definition of Abstract Labour, and I think there are problems with the formulation Marx adopts here. This is not the place to discuss it, however.

The Labour of skilled workers like David Beckham
counts as many, many hours of 'simple' unskilled labour.
Various Use Values are the products not of 'Simple' labour power, but of skilled labour power. This skilled or 'complex' labour merely counts as a multiple of an hour of simple labour. For example, an hour's labour of a brain surgeon might count as 10 hours of simple labour. Exactly what this multiple is can only be determined in practice by looking at what rate the product of these different types of labour exchange at in the market.

As a consequence of anthropological studies, throughout the world, we know that this basis of determining the rates at which different commodities exchanged was not something simply assumed or deduced by Marx, in the same way that Neo-Classical theory assumes or deduces that consumers perform complex calculations in their heads of comparative amounts of Marginal Utility. The Exchange of Commodities based on calculation of expended labour-time is historical fact. (See:Historical Proofs & Origins Of The Labour Theory Of Value).

Given that the Value of all commodities is determined by the labour-time required for their production, all commodities can be equated with each other, provided a sufficient quantity of one is set against the other. In other words, the Exchange Value of one commodity can always be expressed as a given quantity of some other Use Value. For example:

1 coat = 10 yards of linen
1 coat = 1 oz. Of Gold
1 coat = 2 sheep
and so on.

Suppose the labour-time required for the production of the coat changes, so that twice as much labour-time is required to produce it.


1 coat = 20 yards of linen
1 coat = 2 oz. Gold
1 coat = 4 sheep.
That is despite the fact that the utility provided by the coat has not changed.

Material wealth is measured by the quantity of Use Values. A society with 2 coats that can clothe 2 people is wealthier than a society with only 1 coat. BUT, an increase in material wealth can coincide with a reduction in Exchange Value. For example, if 1 coat = 10 hours labour-time, and then due to improvement in productivity, it only takes 4 hours, then a society might produce 2 coats, but their Exchange Value would only be equal to 8 hours! In general, this improvement in productivity establishes a fundamental contradiction whereby it creates the conditions for an increase in material wealth, at the same time as reducing the amount of Exchange Value. Much later, we will see that it is this fundamental contradiction, which under capitalism, makes crises of overproduction inevitable.

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