Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Capital I, Chapter 16 - Part 1

Absolute and Relative Surplus Value

Marx turns to examine Absolute and Relative Surplus-value from a different angle to that he used earlier. He does so by returning to the question of the labour process, and the definition of productive labour. In previous modes of production, where production was engaged in by individuals, the labour process is one in which each individual interacts with nature, for the purpose of the production of some material product. This is impossible without the individual bringing to bear both their manual and mental abilities. The definition of productive labour is then determined accordingly as the production of some material product.

However, as co-operative labour develops, alongside a division of labour, this is no longer necessarily the case. At the level of the collective worker, the object is still the production of some material product, but, at the level of the individual worker this is not so. There is a division between manual and mental labour. But, the mental labour constitutes productive labour just as much as does the manual labour.

Moreover, under capitalism, it is not production per se that is the object but the production of surplus value, the means by which capital expands. So, the definition of productive labour now becomes that which produces surplus value. As Marx says, this is covered in much more detail in Theories of Surplus Value..

Marx says it doesn't matter whether a capitalist
invests in a sausage factory, or an education factory.
The labour employed is still productive labour,
 producing Surplus Value.  Nor does it matter whether
the Capitalist is a private capitalist, or the capitalist state.
To illustrate, Marx writes,

If we may take an example from outside the sphere of production of material objects, a schoolmaster is a productive labourer when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his scholars, he works like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, does not alter the relation. Hence the notion of a productive labourer implies not merely a relation between work and useful effect, between labourer and product of labour, but also a specific, social relation of production, a relation that has sprung up historically and stamps the labourer as the direct means of creating surplus-value.” (p 477)

Nor does it matter whether the owner of this teaching factory is a private capitalist or a state capitalist. Andrew Kliman is absolutely correct on this point. He writes,

Government provision of, and people's entitlement to, some goods and services is now frequently called 'decommodification', but it is actually nothing of the sort. Before the Government can provide these things, it must either buy them or produce them. If it buys these things, they obviously remain commodities. They continue to be produced in order to expand value. This means they continue to be produced in a way that minimises cost and maximises production, and the consequences of this – exploitation, poor working conditions, unemployment and the falling tendencies of prices and the rate of profit – continue to exist as well. And Marx (Marx and Engels Collected Works Vol. 24 pp 531-59) argued that 'Where the state itself is a capitalist producer, as in the exploitation of mines, forests etc., its product is a “commodity” and hence possesses the specific character of every other commodity.' This is not so because he defined it to be so, but because a government that acts as a capitalist producer minimises costs, maximises production, and in general behaves just like a private capitalist. Nothing is different in this case except that the moneys that purchase the 'de-commodified' commodities that the government produces are called tax contributions rather than sales revenues.” (Note 16 to Chapter 1, “The Failure of Capitalist Production”)

Engels also makes this point. In “Anti-Duhring” he writes,

The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers - proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head” (p360).

Alan Freeman in 1991, in “Quantitative Marxism” shows that in the UK during the whole post-war period, the Social Wage was negative. In other words, workers were paying more in “taxes” for these various services than they received back in Value from them, emphasising once again that the State Capitalist produces them as commodities, and extracts Surplus Value from the workers it employs to provide them.

But, of course nationalised coal mines were NOT
"managed by the NCB on behalf of the people".
  They were managed by the Capitalist State, on behalf
of Capital!
In what sense does a miner go from being a productive worker one day, to becoming an unproductive worker the next, just because the Capitalist State has become his employer? Clearly he does not. The same is true for steelworkers, railworkers, nurses, doctors, teachers etc. All of these workers are involved in producing commodities. They may provide them being employed by a private employer or by a State capitalist employer. In either case they are employed by Capital, they produce commodities, and they produce Surplus Value. Whether that Surplus Value is appropriated by their own employer (be it a private employer or the State) is irrelevant, because as Marx demonstrates in his Transformation of Values into Prices of Production, the total Surplus Value produced by all workers is shared out by Capital in accordance with the Capital employed via market prices. In reality, the existence of Monopoly power, and the way in which Capital uses the State to meet its needs means that the actual allocation of Surplus Value is more complicated than that.

Welfare states providing healthcare, education etc.
 have been created by Capital in every developed
 economy, to meet the needs of capital,
 for an adequate supply of healthy,
 educated labour-power.  That capitalist state
 forces workers  to pay for these commodities
 whether they meet its needs or not,
 whether it wants them or not, whether they
 are good quality or not.  It is a State Capitalist
 version of the Truck System used by
 19th Century capitalists,
 to force workers to buy poor quality goods
 from the factory shop out of their wages.
All Capital, be it small scale Capital or State Capital produces Use Values, because as Marx says, nothing can be a commodity unless it is also a Use Value. Someone must want it. All capital is, therefore, forced to organise its production to produce to meet the needs of consumers (be they end consumers or other business buying inputs), because unless they do so, they do not sell their products, and they do not realise their profits. To claim there is something different about State Capitalist production because it produces Use Values rather than things to sell is simply wrong. Moreover, what the Capitalist State does in relation to commodities like Education and Health, is that it uses its monopoly position to sell these commodities to workers as a captive market, in the same way that 19th century Capitalists did via the Truck System. It is not at all true to say that these Use Values are produced primarily to meet workers' needs, or that they are provided free. The only needs they are produced to meet are the needs of Capital, which is why they are reduced whenever Capital experiences a prolonged or serious economic crisis, which reduces its needs for labour-power.

They are merely important commodities required for the reproduction of labour-power, and as such Capital forces workers to buy them in sufficient quantity and quality to meet its needs, and to pay for them via taxes. The situation was even clearer in regard to State owned industries such as Coal, Energy and Steel, where market prices to domestic private industries were set at such low levels as to ensure a direct transfer of the Surplus Value created by State workers to private Capital.

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