Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Law Of The Tendency Of The Rate of Profit To Fall - Part 24

Fall In the Value Of The Variable Capital (8)

The lesson from the examples set out in Part 23 appears to be that, on the basis of absolute surplus value, the increase in the rate of surplus value offsets the increase in the constant capital (material processed) so that the rate of profit rises, but its ability to do so is increasingly reduced where the organic composition of capital is already high, and the rate of surplus value already high. The increase in the constant capital is assumed to rise here in the same proportion as the increase in the working day, but, in fact, as Marx points out, this is not accurate, because although twice as much material may be processed, the actual increase in wear and tear of fixed capital is likely to rise, in practice, by a smaller proportion. An increase in the working day, is, therefore, a powerful means of increasing the rate of profit, even as it increases the organic composition of capital.

“But notably, it is prolongation of the working-day, this invention of modern industry, which increases the mass of appropriated surplus-labour without essentially altering the proportion of the employed labour-power to the constant capital set in motion by it, and which rather tends to reduce this capital relatively.” (p 233)

However, as seen in Capital I, there are limits on the extent of the working day that form the basis of a normal working-day. If workers work beyond it, they are unable to work as intensively and their own wear and tear increases, raising the value of labour-power, and reducing the rate of surplus value. If they work more intensively, the same thing applies, and they are unable to work so extensively.

Moreover, for any particular concrete labour there are limits to how long the working day can be prolonged. For example, suppose the examples given are for coal miners working an 8 hour day. Its possible that this day could be extended to 16 hours, to obtain the results set out in the examples. But its not possible to go beyond that, because the miners require some time to rest, sleep and recuperate.

Marx describes other means by which this effect can be obtained, however, such as the employment of women and children. By employing the labour of the entire family, for little more if anything in wages, than was formerly paid to a male worker, capital is able to raise the amount of labour exploited in a single day, by simply employing more workers for the same amount of variable capital.

If one worker previously worked for 10 hours providing 5 hours of surplus labour, for a wage of £5, they provided £5 of surplus value. But, if six members of their family are now employed for the same amount of wages, 60 hours of labour are provided, and now 55 hours constitute surplus labour, producing a surplus value of £55. However, as was seen in Capital I, the effects of this process on the longer term supply of labour-power were eventually recognised by capital and its representatives, which together with the actions of workers and their trades unions, limited such practices via the Factory Acts. Instead capital found a much more effective means of raising the rate of exploitation, via relative surplus value arising from increases in productivity resulting in a reduction in the value of labour-power.

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