Friday, 3 January 2014

Capital II, Chapter 11 - Part 4

The essential point about variable capital is that the capitalist exchanges a constant sum to buy a commodity, labour-power, that creates a variable sum. Marx reiterates the point that it does not matter whether this constant sum paid out, is in the form of money wages, or in the form of means of subsistence provided to the workers. But, he needs to be careful here. In practice this is true, because under capitalism, this payment in kind is always a rare exception. But, in principle, for the reasons set out in Chapter 10, and in examining commodity exchange in Volume I, if it were generalised, surplus value would become impossible.

If all commodities were only ever bought by capitalists, those capitalists would only be prepared to pay for them what they cost to produce, and their cost of production to capitalists is always less than the value of those commodities, because it does not include the unpaid labour-time.

If capitalist A has a commodity, which has cost them £10 to produce, there is no reason capitalist B will pay them £12 for it. But, if they do, and then capitalist B sells A a commodity for £12, that cost them just £10 to produce, what A gained as a seller they lose as a buyer. Its as though both commodities sold at their cost of production. So, no surplus value can be created. Surplus Value can only arise and be realised when wage workers appear in the market as buyers of commodities.

If workers, like slaves, are paid not in wages, but in means of subsistence, bought by capitalists, then those capitalists WILL be the only purchasers of commodities, so surplus value would be competed away. It is only because workers are wage workers, deprived of their own means of production, and unable themselves to exploit labour-power, that they appear in the market as buyers of commodities not at the cost of production, but at their exchange value, which includes the labour-time expended on them that has not been paid for. Its precisely on that basis, as Marx sets out in the Grundrisse, that exchange value only assumes its mature form, where wage workers constitute the majority of consumers.

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