Thursday, 22 August 2013

Capital II, Chapter 6 - Part 3

Marx discusses “Capital In General” in Volume III, where he describes how it is divided into Money Capital, Productive Capital and Merchant Capital. To avoid having to undertake that analysis here, prematurely, he assumes the person undertaking the role of merchant is a wage labourer.

“He expends his labour-power and labour-time in the operations C — M and M — C. And he makes his living that way, just as another does by spinning or making pills. He performs a necessary function, because the process of reproduction itself includes unproductive functions. He works as well as the next man, but intrinsically his labour creates neither value nor product. He belongs himself to the faux frais of production. His usefulness does not consist in transforming an unproductive function into a productive one, nor unproductive into productive labour. It would be a miracle if such transformation could be accomplished by the mere transfer of a function.” (p 134-5)

Marx then explains how it is that this wage labourer, who produces no additional new value, and yet receives back from society an amount of value in wages, can still be considered to have been exploited, to have performed unpaid labour.

The answer is quite simple. The labour performed does not add value to the product, but it is still necessary labour, without which the product cannot be sold. As such, this concrete labour itself has a value. Ultimately, the value of that concrete labour is determined in the market as with other labour, by the interaction of supply and demand – supply of labour-power by the workers and demand for it by capital. Lying behind that is the value of labour-power for this particular concrete labour. But, even if this particular form of labour, because of its specialised nature, has a high value, and receives high wages, that does not prevent it from being exploited.

Suppose those wages are equivalent to 8 hours of abstract labour-time i.e. that is what is required to reproduce this particular type of labour, then if the worker works for 10 hours, they have still provided 2 hours of unpaid labour, 2 hours of surplus labour. It is not labour that has added any value to the commodity, but the capitalist who bought it obtained 10 hours of necessary labour, whilst paying for only 8!

“But the two hours of surplus-labour he performs do not produce value anymore than his eight hours of necessary labour, although by means of the latter a part of the social product is transferred to him. In the first place, looking at it from the standpoint of society, labour-power is used up now as before for ten hours in a mere function of circulation. It cannot be used for anything else, not for productive labour. In the second place however society does not pay for those two hours of surplus-labour, although they are spent by the individual who performs this labour. Society does not appropriate any extra product or value thereby. But the costs of circulation, which he represents, are reduced by one-fifth, from ten hours to eight. Society does not pay any equivalent for one-fifth of this active time of circulation, of which he is the agent. But if this man is employed by a capitalist, then the non-payment of these two hours reduces the cost of circulation of his capital, which constitutes a deduction from his income. For the capitalist this is a positive gain, because the negative limit for the self-expansion of his capital-value is thereby reduced. So long as small independent producers of commodities spend a part of their own time in buying and selling, this represents nothing but time spent during the intervals between their productive function or diminution of their time of production.” (p 135)

Of course, as described previously in other contexts, what is said here in terms of abstract labour-time applies, only in modified form to complex labour. If we think about a direct producer, such as a spinner, for instance, their labour may be considered complex. For example, 1 hour of their labour might be equal to 2 hours of abstract labour.

If the spinner has to spend 10 hours in a week selling their product, this is 10 hours they are not producing yarn. But, that 10 hours is equal to 20 hours of abstract labour-time. If the spinner employs a specialist to sell the yarn, this seller might again work 10 hours, as did the spinner. Yet, they might be paid 16 hours of abstract labour-time, meaning their labour is complex too. But, the spinner still benefits to the extent of 4 hours of abstract labour-time that they have saved compared to if they had performed the function themselves.

In fact, precisely because the seller is a specialist, they might accomplish the task in 8 hours rather than 10. In that case, they get paid at the same rate as the spinner, if they continue to be paid 16 hours of abstract labour-time, whilst the spinner still makes a saving of 4 hours of abstract labour time.

“At all events the time consumed for this purpose constitutes one of the costs of circulation which adds nothing to the converted values. It is the cost of converting them from the commodity-form into the money-form. The capitalist producer of commodities acting as an agent of circulation differs from the direct producer of commodities only in the fact that he buys and sells on a larger scale and therefore his function as such agent assumes greater dimensions. And if the volume of his business compels or enables him to buy (hire) circulation agents of his own to serve as wage-labourers, the nature of the case is not changed thereby. A certain amount of labour-power and labour-time must be expended in the process of circulation (so far as it is merely a change of form). But this now appears as an additional investment of capital. A part of the variable capital must be laid out in the purchase of this labour-power functioning only in circulation. This advance capital creates neither product nor value.” (p 135-6)

Back To Part 2

Forward To Part 4

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