Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Necessary Labour - Part 2 of 4

Necessary labour has to be distinguished from socially necessary labour-time. The former refers to the labour that must be expended to ensure that the producer's consumption fund is produced. Socially necessary labour-time refers to the labour-time required, on average, to produce use values, and consequently their value. These are two entirely different things. 

If a producer requires eight hours to produce the items of consumption needed to reproduce their own labour-power, this eight hours constitutes necessary labour. If, the worker then spends a further two hours working, producing additional items of consumption, these two hours constitute surplus labour. Yet, the entire ten hours could constitute socially necessary labour-time. If the food produced in the ten hours is all food required and demanded by society, and so all constitutes a use value, then the labour required for its production constitutes socially necessary labour-time. Socially necessary labour-time refers to the average labour-time required for the production of any commodity, whereas, necessary labour refers only to the labour that the labourer must perform to create the value required to reproduce their labour-power, as a specific commodity. The difference is that described earlier that labour-power is unlike any other commodity, because its consumption involves the very act of labour, of creating new value, or at least the potential for doing so, and, thereby the potential for creating surplus value. The proviso introduced here, reflects the fact, as Marx sets out in Theories of Surplus Value, that the purchase of labour-power does not necessarily require its productive consumption. The example given by Marx is of a theatre owner, who buys the labour-power of an actor, but who does not use it productively, instead having bought it simply to deprive another theatre owner of that possibility. 

If the food producer, like Robinson, in addition to spending time producing the food they require to reproduce their labour-power, spends additional time producing means of production, this additional labour is surplus labour, and its product a surplus product. It only becomes necessary labour, and a necessary product when it starts to be used to produce the use values required to reproduce his labour-power. But, it does not matter whether this surplus labour is undertaken by the food producer or someone else. Suppose that, in addition to a particular producer, who produces food, there is another producer who makes ploughs and other equipment. This second producer spends two hours producing these means of production. They are able to do this, because the first producer only produces food. Although, the first producer performs surplus labour of two hours, when they produce food over and above what they require, for their own consumption, taken from the standpoint of the whole society, i.e. of the two producers, they do not perform surplus labour, because the food producers, in the additional two hours, produce the food required by the equipment makers to be able to live without themselves producing food. 

The two hours spent by the equipment producer, producing equipment, which they exchange with the food producer, is also surplus labour not necessary labour. It is surplus labour, because it does not produce consumption goods required by themselves or the food producer. But, although the two hours of labour of the equipment maker is not necessary labour, it is socially necessary labour, provided the product of that labour is all required. If the food producer wants the equipment that has been produced, and is prepared to exchange their surplus food for it, then the labour performed by the equipment maker was socially necessary. If, however, the food producer does not want the equipment, or only wants part of it, then either all or some of the labour, expended by the equipment maker, was wasted. It was not socially necessary labour, because it was used to create products no one wanted. That is they were not use values, and a product can only have value if it is a use value. 

As Marx sets out, socially necessary labour-time does not just require that each individual commodity is produced using the most efficient methods available, at the time. It also requires that the total production of any class of commodity does not exceed the demand for that commodity at its market value or price of production. If it does, the labour-time expended on that excess production was not socially necessary, and creates no value. 

“But it is merely the same law which is already applied in the case of single commodities, namely, that the use-value of a commodity is the basis of its exchange-value and thus of its value. This point has a bearing upon the relationship between necessary and surplus labour only in so far as a violation of this proportion makes it impossible to realise the value of the commodity and thus the surplus-value contained in it. For instance; let us assume that proportionally too much cotton goods have been produced, although only the labour-time necessary under the prevailing conditions is incorporated in this total cloth production. But in general too much social labour has been expended in this particular line; in other words, a portion of this product is useless. It is therefore sold solely as if it had been produced in the necessary proportion. This quantitative limit to the quota of social labour-time available for the various particular spheres of production is but a more developed expression of the law of value in general, although the necessary labour-time assumes a different meaning here. Only just so much of it is required for the satisfaction of social needs. The limitation occurring here is due to the use value. Society can use only so much of its total labour-time for this particular kind of product under prevailing conditions of production.” 

If the food producer above had themselves spent the two hours of surplus labour-time producing equipment they required, this would not in any way have changed the fact that this two hours was, for them, surplus labour-time, rather than necessary labour-time. That is, no matter how useful to them the equipment produced during those 2 hours might be to them, it is surplus labour-time over and above what was required to reproduce the value of their labour-power. The equipment produced is not itself required for consumption, and it is only the time currently spent producing consumption goods for the labourer that constitutes necessary labour. This expenditure of labour produces not consumption goods, but means of production. It represents accumulation, the value of which is thrown into circulation only when those means of production are themselves employed in the production process. Only then does the labour required to reproduce these means of production, so that production of means of consumption can continue on the most efficient basis, does labour-time spent in that way become necessary labour. As was the case, when Robinson, having produced his net, uses it to catch fish, so that the time required to reproduce the net becomes a part of his necessary labour. 

That is because the working-day divides into two parts of necessary labour and surplus labour. The necessary labour is the labour-time required to produce the necessary means of consumption, including the time required to produce the means of production necessary for that production. If I can only catch rabbits by first building traps, then the time required to build traps is necessary labour-time. But, the time I might spend, at the end of the day, building enclosures within which to breed and farm rabbits, is not necessary labour-time. It is surplus labour-time, used for the purpose of accumulation of means of production. But, as soon as I then begin to use the enclosures, the labour-time I must expend to maintain them becomes necessary labour-time, it is an essential part of me farming rabbits efficiently. But, these two hours of surplus labour, spent at the end of the day, although it is not necessary labour, is still socially necessary labour. It does not produce goods required for the reproduction of the producer, but it does produce use values, products required by the producer/society and so these products have value, the labour used in their production created new value, and to the extent it was manifest in this surplus product, it represents a surplus value. In the same way, the 3 fish that Robinson originally caught did not constitute part of his necessary product, but were part of his surplus product. The time spent catching them was surplus labour, not necessary labour, but for the production of these 8 fish, the entire 8 hours constituted socially necessary labour-time, just as the value of each fish was 1 hour.

No comments: