Monday, 13 October 2014

The Law Of The Tendency For The Rate of Profit To Fall - Part 49

Transformation Of the Nature of Labour (1)

In the previous two parts, the point that the capitalist economy is not some static phenomenon, where capital simply accumulates, in a given set of existing industries, was examined. In Capital, Marx demonstrates that capitalism, by its nature, is a dynamic system, that moves forward by continual change and revolution, both in the nature of production and consumption. But, central to his analysis, is the role played by labour, and it would be inconceivable, for this dynamic system, to be in a continual state of flux, if the nature of labour itself did not change in the same manner. In fact, Marx himself details some of those changes as they had already occurred during his time.

In Capital I, he describes in detail the transformation of the worker, from being the handicraft worker to the detail worker, of manufacture, under the division of labour, to being the mass production worker, of industrial capitalism. But, it is also central to Marx’s method to see this process too as dialectical, and full of contradictions, in its process of development. On the one hand, this process drives towards the de-skilling of jobs, as workers are turned into machine minders, actually subordinated to capital in the labour process. On the other, the increasing level of technological development means that an increasing number of workers must themselves have increasingly developed, specialised skills, in order to develop and produce this technology, as well as to maintain and repair it. As more varied commodities are produced, even the task of machine minding becomes differentiated, because the machine to be minded, in one industry, is not the same as the machine to be minded in another.

But, also the development of new commodities, and new industries, means that, at a certain level, particularly in the infancy of these new industries, the most important factor, in production, is once again the living labour. Again, this is the point made in the quote from the Grundrisse,

“This creation of new branches of production, i.e. of qualitatively new surplus time, is not merely the division of labour, but is rather the creation, separate from a given production, of labour with a new use value; the development of a constantly expanding and more comprehensive system of different kinds of labour, different kinds of production, to which a constantly expanding and constantly enriched system of needs corresponds.”

So, capital must continually develop these new commodities, and industries based upon them, as a means of utilising the increasing masses of surplus value and released capital. These new industries create a need for sizeable and increasing quantities of new types of concrete labour, labour that is defined by the new use values it produces. But, as Marx sets out, this is only one side of the transformation of labour. This is a transformation of concrete labour within the labour process, but this very same process of the continual expansion of the range of use values that must be sold to workers, transforms their labour also as a consequence of the means of subsistence, which this increasing range of use values consumed has upon it.

“...the cultivation of all the qualities of the social human being, production of the same in a form as rich as possible in needs, because rich in qualities and relations -- production of this being as the most total and universal possible social product, for, in order to take gratification in a many-sided way, he must be capable of many pleasures [genussfähig], hence cultured to a high degree -- is likewise a condition of production founded on capital.”

Consequently, not only is it the case that the value of this labour-power as a commodity necessarily has an historical component, that reflects the fact that labour increasingly must consume this ever expanding range of use values, but it is also, therefore, necessarily the case that the value of the product of this transformed labour cannot be the same as the value of a much less cultured, much less educated labour. This is not an argument about the productivity of that labour. Marx showed in that regard that the value of the product of labour that uses more advanced technology etc. has the nature of complex labour, compared to labour that does not use such technology, but only for so long as this technology is not used by all labour. 

Rather the argument here is about the use value of the concrete labour and the use value and value of the product of that labour. For example, if we compared the use value of an hour of teaching in 1900 with the use value of an hour of teaching today, is anyone in any doubt that teaching today represents a greater use value? That is not a question of productivity, that more teaching is done per hour, but that the quality of the teaching is higher, the nature of the education provided is higher in quality. Moreover, because it represents more use value, the value of that teaching as a commodity is higher because the use value of the concrete labour itself is greater. The individual value of commodities falls as productivity rises. However, for any given level of productivity the amount of value rises along with the quantity of use value. For example, 2 tons of coal has a value double that of 1 ton of coal. Similarly, a greater quantity of use value may be represented in a higher level of quality rather than quantity. This is the basis of the higher value of the product of complex labour.

Consider the following. A society has a number of workers producing furniture. The skills of the workers are rudimentary, and the furniture produced is correspondingly crude. Over many years, the skills of these workers improves simply as a result of their continued labour. They develop more sophisticated tools, and learn to use these tools more adeptly to further enhance the quality of their products. Over a few generations, not only do the skills of each generation improve in this way, but each existing generation is able to pass on its skill, and train the next generation, so that each new generation starts off at a higher level of ability than the last. If we compare the products of one of these later generations with those of the first, we will find that they are, in fact, not at all the same. A chair produced with 10 hours of labour by the first generation, will not be at all comparable with a chair produced in 10 hours of labour by the last. This has nothing to do with a rise in productivity, but with a rise in the value of the product of an hour's labour by workers in the two different periods. Although, both chairs will be the product of 10 hours of labour, the chair produced by the latter will sell in the market for much more than the former, because its use value will be notably greater, because of its much higher quality. The latter's labour stands in relation to the former as complex labour stands to simple labour.

This is precisely the transformation of labour itself that must result from the process that Marx describes in the Grundrisse, which results from this continual raising of the cultural level of labour stemming from the Civilising Mission of Capital.

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