Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Capital I, Chapter 7 - Part 1

The Production Of Absolute Surplus Value

1) The Labour Process or The Production Of Use Values

The Capitalist buys labour-power from the worker as a commodity. As with every other commodity, it is bought at its full Exchange Value i.e. the labour-time required for its production. In this case, the labour-time required to produce all of the food, clothing, shelter, health, education, entertainment etc. required to produce a sufficient quantity, and quality of workers to meet the needs of Capital. That is sufficiently healthy, strong, skilled, educated and so on.

The capitalist buys this commodity, labour-power, from the worker for the same reason they buy any other commodity. In other words, for its Use Value. The Use Value of Labour-power is Labour itself, the ability to produce other Use Values, that themselves have Value.

Labour-power is consumed productively by being set to work. As set out previously, in order for this work to actually produce Value, it must be in the production of a Use Value, i.e. an article of utility for someone. Marx says, the fact that this is carried on under the control of the capitalist, “does not alter the general character of their production”, and so he begins by examining the labour process outside any particular social form it might take.

The labour process is one in which both Man and Nature participate. Indeed, Man is himself “one of her own forces”, but opposes himself to it, in order “to appropriate Nature's productions in a form adapted to his own wants.” He does this by using his own forces, be they of mind or body, to “regulate and control the material reactions between himself and Nature.” That means manipulating Nature to bring about material changes in the world about him.

By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature.” (p 173)

As a result of this process, Man also develops his own intellectual and productive powers. What distinguishes this kind of human labour from most instinctive animal labour is the fact that the human labourer has created an image of the object of his activity prior to undertaking it. We know that although humans have existed for around 5 million years, it is only from around 100,000 years ago that the first modern humans or thinking humans have existed, demonstrated in their production of artwork containing patterns.

He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention. The less he is attracted by the nature of the work, and the mode in which it is carried on, and the less, therefore, he enjoys it as something which gives play to his bodily and mental powers, the more close his attention is forced to be.” (p 174)

The elementary factors of the labour-process are 1, the personal activity of man, i.e., work itself, 2, the subject of that work, and 3, its instruments.” (p 174)

Nature provides, in the first instance, the “universal subject of human labour.” It can take two forms. Firstly, it can take the form of virgin soil (and water) and all those things that are on or in it (plants, animals, fish etc.) or which can be simply extracted from it such as ores. All of these things require human labour before they can be consumed, but they require nothing more than this. For example, fish can be eaten once caught. However, Marx says raw material is, on the other hand, any of these products which has gone through a further process of labour upon it.

All raw material is the subject of labour, but not every subject of labour is raw material: it can only become so, after it has undergone some alteration by means of labour.”

So, an ore extracted may not constitute raw material if, after extraction it is used, e.g. a flint, whereas ore extracted, and being prepared for smelting, would be raw material.

An instrument of labour is a thing, or a complex of things, which the labourer interposes between himself and the subject of his labour, and which serves as the conductor of his activity. He makes use of the mechanical, physical, and chemical properties of some substances in order to make other substances subservient to his aims. Leaving out of consideration such ready-made means of subsistence as fruits, in gathering which a man’s own limbs serve as the instruments of his labour, the first thing of which the labourer possesses himself is not the subject of labour but its instrument...

As the earth is his original larder, so too it is his original tool house. It supplies him, for instance, with stones for throwing, grinding, pressing, cutting, &c. The earth itself is an instrument of labour, but when used as such in agriculture implies a whole series of other instruments and a comparatively high development of labour.” ( p 175)

This development of instruments, including things such as domesticated animals, arises quickly, once human labour itself develops. From early on we see the special development of stone tools, weapons for hunting etc. As Marx says,

Relics of bygone instruments of labour possess the same importance for the investigation of extinct economic forms of society, as do fossil bones for the determination of extinct species of animals. It is not the articles made, but how they are made, and by what instruments, that enables us to distinguish different economic epochs.” ( p 175)

So, we have the Stone, Bronze and iron Ages, for example. But, the instruments of labour are also “indicators of the social conditions under which that labour is carried on.”

Of these, Marx distinguishes two types. First, there are those he describes as the “bone and muscle of production.” That is the things of a mechanical nature used for digging, crushing, grinding, cutting etc. Second, is what he calls the “vascular system of production.” That is those things like pipes, tubs, baskets, jars etc., which contain and help transport the materials of production. This comparison is reminiscent with the way Thomas Hobbes, who also identified the nature of reality as being based on movement rather than inertia, and in 'Leviathan' compared the human body to the movement of a machine, and the body politic to the human body.

In addition to those instruments of production that take part in this process, there are those which are needed for the process to take place. The earth itself is one of these, because without something to stand on no process is possible. But, also things such as “workshops, canals, roads” and so on come under this heading. Mostly, they are things we would refer to as infrastructure or fixed capital.

In the labour-process, therefore, man’s activity, with the help of the instruments of labour, effects an alteration, designed from the commencement, in the material worked upon. The process disappears in the product, the latter is a use-value, Nature’s material adapted by a change of form to the wants of man. Labour has incorporated itself with its subject: the former is materialised, the latter transformed. That which in the labourer appeared as movement, now appears in the product as a fixed quality without motion. The blacksmith forges and the product is a forging.” (p 176)

Both the instrument and the subject of labour constitute the means of production and the labour itself is productive labour i.e. it creates new value. However, Marx is quick to point out,

This method of determining, from the standpoint of the labour-process alone, what is productive labour, is by no means directly applicable to the case of the capitalist process of production.” (Note 2, p 176)

That is because his definition of Productive Labour under Capitalism is quite different and specific, being defined in terms of productive not of Value, but of Surplus Value.

Though a use-value, in the form of a product, issues from the labour-process, yet other use-values, products of previous labour, enter into it as means of production. The same-use-value is both the product of a previous process, and a means of production in a later process. Products are therefore not only results, but also essential conditions of labour.” ( p 176-7)

Apart from the extractive industries, all industry is involved in the manipulation of raw material, i.e. products of Nature that have already been the subject of labour to extract it. Even with agriculture this is the case. Current domesticated livestock is the product of millennia of purposeful human labour to breed into it specific characteristics. Today, with the introduction of even greater scientific advances in genetics and bio-engineering that is even more the case. The same is true with seed and plant selection in arable farming. Of course, the products derived from this raw material may themselves form raw material for some further products. For example, wool can be spun into yarn, which is then weaved into cloth, which is made into a coat.

Raw material may be the main component or substance of a product, or it may be just an accessory to a process. For example, oil may be required to lubricate the workings of a machine, that is itself part of the productive process. Coal may be required to fuel a boiler that provides a steam engine with its power, to keep other machines working; or it might be mixed with the main substance to bring about some chemical change, e.g. “chlorine into unbleached linen”; or it could simply assist in enabling work to take place, e.g. providing heating and lighting in a workshop. As Marx says,

The distinction between principal substance and accessory vanishes in the true chemical industries, because there none of the raw material re-appears, in its original composition, in the substance of the product.” (p 177)

As described in Chapter 1, products have a range of Use Values. Corn can be an end product, or it can be raw material “for millers, starch manufacturers, distillers and cattle breeders. It also enters as raw material into its own production in the shape of seed; coal, too, is at the same time the product of, and a means of production in, coal-mining.”

Cattle are both raw material and a provider of manure. Other products may only be usable as raw material i.e. they only have any Use Value as substance of some other product. Marx cites “cotton, thread and yarn”.

Hence we see, that whether a use-value is to be regarded as raw material, as instrument of labour, or as product, this is determined entirely by its function in the labour-process, by the position it there occupies: as this varies, so does its character.” (p 178)

What is a product for one labour process and producer appears as substance or instrument of labour for another. The more Division of Labour develops, the more this is the case.

In the finished product the labour by means of which it has acquired its useful qualities is not palpable, has apparently vanished.” (p 178)

All of the means of production are useless unless they are acted upon by living labour, and will in fact deteriorate without it.

Iron rusts and wood rots. Yarn with which we neither weave nor knit, is cotton wasted. Living labour must seize upon these things and rouse them from their death-sleep, change them from mere possible use-values into real and effective ones. Bathed in the fire of labour, appropriated as part and parcel of labour’s organism, and, as it were, made alive for the performance of their functions in the process, they are in truth consumed, but consumed with a purpose, as elementary constituents of new use-values, of new products, ever ready as means of subsistence for individual consumption, or as means of production for some new labour-process.” (p 178)

Marx adopts a slightly different emphasis in Capital to that he took in the Grundrisse. In the Grundrisse he describes Production as consumption, and Consumption as production. So, for example, the worker in consuming food, shelter etc. at the same time produces his own labour-power. Labour in consuming the means of Production, produces new Use values. Whereas in Capital, he writes,

Labour uses up its material factors, its subject and its instruments, consumes them, and is therefore a process of consumption. Such productive consumption is distinguished from individual consumption by this, that the latter uses up products, as means of subsistence for the living individual; the former, as means whereby alone, labour, the labour-power of the living individual, is enabled to act. The product, therefore, of individual consumption, is the consumer himself; the result of productive consumption, is a product distinct from the consumer...

The labour-process, resolved as above into its simple elementary factors, is human action with a view to the production of use-values, appropriation of natural substances to human requirements; it is the necessary condition for effecting exchange of matter between man and Nature; it is the everlasting Nature-imposed condition of human existence, and therefore is independent of every social phase of that existence, or rather, is common to every such phase. It was, therefore, not necessary to represent our labourer in connexion with other labourers; man and his labour on one side, Nature and its materials on the other, sufficed. As the taste of the porridge does not tell you who grew the oats, no more does this simple process tell you of itself what are the social conditions under which it is taking place, whether under the slave-owner’s brutal lash, or the anxious eye of the capitalist, whether Cincinnatus carries it on in tilling his modest farm or a savage in killing wild animals with stones.” (p 179)

There are two characteristics of the labour process now under the capitalist that can be observed. Firstly, the worker works under the control of the capitalist not himself. The control of the capitalist ensures the work is done properly, that the means of production are used intelligently, that there is no waste and undue wear and tear etc. Of course, such control and supervision is not necessary where the worker directly owns the means of production themselves.

Secondly, although the worker is the producer of the product, he is not its owner. It belongs to the capitalist. The capitalist has bought the commodity labour-power for a day, and has the right thereby to use it for a day, just as if they had hired a horse for a day. For the capitalist, the labour process is “nothing more than the consumption of the commodity purchased, i. e., of labour-power; but this consumption cannot be effected except by supplying the labour-power with the means of production. The labour-process is a process between things that the capitalist has purchased, things that have become his property. The product of this process belongs, therefore, to him, just as much as does the wine which is the product of a process of fermentation completed in his cellar.” (p 180)

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