Thursday, 23 January 2014

Capital II, Chapter 12 - Part 3

Marx introduces a new concept here. That is the “Working Period”. It is the labour-time required for the completion of a particular use value. So, a yard of linen might require 1 hour to produce, but a locomotive 6,000 hours. For the workers, in either case, 1 hour's labour is 1 hour's labour, separate from any other, but for the locomotive, the 6,000 hours constitute one continuous labour process, even though it has been spread over 12 weeks.

The working period for the yard of linen is one hour, and for the locomotive 6,000 hours.

“When we speak of a working-day we mean the length of working time during which the labourer must daily spend his labour-power, must work day by day. But when we speak of a working period we mean the number of connected working-days required in a certain branch of industry for the manufacture of a finished product. In this case the product of every working-day is but a partial one, which is further worked upon from day to day and only at the end of the longer or shorter working period receives its finished form, is a finished use-value.” (p 234)

One consequence is that the effects of interruptions in production due to crises etc., have very different effects on different industries. If production of yarn is stopped – because cotton, from the US slave states, is blockaded for instance – the result is that tomorrow's yarn production does not occur. However, if a shipbuilder cannot obtain steel, then it is not just that tomorrow's work has to cease. All of the previous work and materials have been wasted, because the ship can only be sold in its completed form. Even if the buyer agrees to wait, and if eventually steel is provided, in the intervening period, some of the existing work will have deteriorated.

The significance of the distinction between fixed and circulating capital is also brought out here. The turnover time of the capital is dependent upon the working period of the product. But, for fixed capital, as opposed to circulating capital, it transfers its value to the end product over several working periods.

“Whether a steam-engine transfers its value daily piecemeal to some yarn, the product of a discrete labour-process, or for three months to a locomotive, the product of a continuous act of production, is immaterial as far as laying out the capital required for the purchase of the steam-engine is concerned. In the one case its value flows back in small doses, for instance weekly, in the other case in larger quantities, for instance quarterly. But in either case the renewal of the steam-engine may take place only after twenty years. So long as every individual period within which the value of the steam-engine is returned piecemeal by the sale of the product is shorter than the lifetime of the engine itself, the latter continues to function in the process of production for several working periods.” (p 235)

If a machine lasts for ten years, it does not really matter whether the value of its wear and tear is returned in the sale of the product at the end of a week, month or year, because that capital-value is not required for another ten years. It only has to be advanced again when the machine is replaced.

But, that is not the case with the circulating capital. It is wholly consumed during the working-period, and has to be replaced in full. The longer the working period, the more circulating capital has to be advanced.

Back To Part 2

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