Thursday, 3 October 2013

Capital II, Chapter 8 - Part 3

Auxiliary materials are neither raw materials that enter the final product, nor, in the strict sense, instruments of labour. Lubricating oil does not enter as a component of the product, made by a machine, but neither is it the machine itself. For some auxiliary materials, they become blended with, and inseparable from, the instrument of labour, however.

Lubricating oil is circulating capital because it is used up, and continually has to be replaced, but, for example, fertiliser, added to the soil, becomes chemically integrated with the soil itself. More fertiliser may be needed periodically, but this is only because the fertiliser, along with the soil's own natural nutrients, is gradually used up, as part of the production process. To this extent then, the fertiliser acts as fixed capital.

“Here a portion of the value continues to exist alongside the product, in its independent form or in the form of fixed capital, while the other portion of the value has been delivered to the product and therefore circulates with it. In this case it is not alone a portion of the value of the fixed capital which enters into the product, but also the use-value, the substance, in which this portion of value exists.” (p 164)

The point Marx is making here is that the soil is both an instrument of production and a raw material. The soil is an instrument of production, because it is used by labour as a means of achieving a useful effect. The farmer uses the soil in the same way that a factory worker uses the factory floor or a machine. But, it is also a raw material, because the plants growing in it also absorb nutrients from the soil, i.e. they absorb some of its use value, which is then incorporated into the new commodity, just as linen absorbs the cotton used in its production.

This process was also discussed in Volume I, where I referred to Marx's analysis in Theories of Surplus Value, in which he explained the mistake made by Torrens – Capital i, Chapter 8. Torrens believed that when 100 quarters of grain, planted as seed, becomes 120 quarters of grain when harvested, this additional 20 quarters was the source of the surplus value produced. But, as Marx points out, even this additional 20 quarters of use value has not appeared out of thin air. The additional 20 quarters of use value already existed in the form of fertiliser, soil, sunlight and so on, which is incorporated in the 120 quarters.

Marx then summarises some of the other confusion of economists in relation to these different forms of capital. For example, they frequently confused fixed capital with constant capital, as well as defining fixed capital in terms of its actual mobility. But, as Marx says, a ship is fixed capital, but it is not immobile!

Similarly, the economists had failed to recognise that things that appear as capital are at other times only means of production. They only become capital when they are used capitalistically i.e. as a means of expanding value. A power drill used by a worker to produce a commodity, sold at a profit, by their employer, is capital. The same drill used by the same worker to put up some shelves in their home, is not capital, but only means of production.

“Thus the distinction between instruments of labour and subject of labour, which is grounded on the nature of the labour-process, is reflected in a new form: the distinction between fixed capital and circulating capital. It is only then that a thing which performs the function of an instrument of labour becomes fixed capital. If owing to its material properties it can function also in other capacities than that of instrument of labour, it may be fixed capital or not, depending on the specific function it performs. Cattle as beasts of toil are fixed capital; as beef cattle they are raw material which finally enters into circulation as a product; hence they are circulating, not fixed capital.” (p 164-5)

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