Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Capital II, Chapter 8 - Part 2

Some elements of circulating capital share, with fixed capital, the feature that they do not enter themselves materially into the commodity. For example, auxiliary material, like lubricating oil, is used to keep machines running, coal or electricity may be used to power the machines, gas may be used to provide heating for the factory.

All of these things do not pass physically into the commodity, but they are necessary for its production, and their value passes into it. This led some economists, such as Ramsay, to mistakenly classify such capital as fixed. It is not because in each labour process, its material form is completely used up, and has to be materially replaced.

This is quite separate from the fact of stocks of such materials. If I have ten tons of coal, and use one ton in a week, for power, that one ton has become completely used up, and has to be replaced. If I have a machine, and a tenth of it is used up, the machine itself remains intact, a tenth of it does not have to be replaced.

By contrast, raw materials enter into the commodity in a form that enables them to be articles of use.

“The instruments of labour properly so called, the material vehicles of the fixed capital, are consumed only productively and cannot enter into individual consumption, because they do not enter into the product, or the use-value, which they help to create but retain their independent form with reference to it until they are completely worn out.” (p 162)

That, of course, is not to say that instruments of labour cannot also be commodities for individual consumption. A power drill is an instrument of labour, when used in a factory, but also an article of individual consumption when bought for the purpose of DIY.

All that Marx is saying here is that, in so far as something acts as an instrument of labour, it is not its physical elements, its use value, that enters the end product. Something, which has been an instrument of labour, can, of course, itself become an article of consumption.

“As a beast of toil an ox is fixed capital. If he is eaten, he no longer functions as an instrument of labour, nor as fixed capital either.” (p 163)

With transport, the product is not some physical product, into which raw materials enter. The means of production, and instruments of labour, are used to produce a useful effect, a use value, that is consumed by the buyer in the very act of production of that useful effect. The useful effect is the transformation from one place to another, and the productive process is itself the movement involved. The consumer, be it a passenger or someone whose goods are moved, consumes that useful effect, as it is being produced.

The same is true of other such commodities that are useful effects rather than physical products. I consume the useful effect produced by a singer, or a comedian, or an actor, or a teacher in the very act of them producing that effect.

But, here too, the capital involved in producing these effects is divided into fixed and circulating, as well as constant and variable. Variable capital is always circulating capital. The train driver's labour-power is fully consumed during the production process, so is that of the comedian, singer or teacher, just as much as that of the factory worker.

The coal used to power the train, the electric light to illuminate the theatre, and the chalk used by the teacher, are also used up in the production process. So, these are circulating capital. But, the train and track, and buildings, the theatre and its lighting and other equipment, the school and the desks and chairs etc. are not fully used up in the production process. They wear out only gradually. They are fixed capital.

“All other circumstances being equal, the degree of fixity increases with the durability of the instrument of labour. It is this durability that determines the magnitude of the difference between the capital-value fixed in instruments of labour and that part of its value which it yields to the product in repeated labour-processes. The slower this value is yielded — and value is given up by the instrument of labour in every repetition of the labour-process — the larger is the fixed capital and the greater the difference between the capital employed in the process of production and the capital consumed in it. As soon as this difference has disappeared the instrument of labour has outlived its usefulness and has lost with its use-value also its value. It has ceased to be the depository of value. Since an instrument of labour, like every other material carrier of constant capital, parts with value to the product only to the extent that together with its use-value it loses its value, it is evident that the more slowly its use-value is lost, the longer it lasts in the process of production, the longer is the period in which constant capital-value remains fixed in it.” (p 163-4)

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