Friday, 22 May 2015

Capital III, Chapter 5 - Part 4

If things were viewed from the perspective of the economy as a whole – and increasingly that means a global economy – rather than from the perspective of each individual firm, then it would be clear that the savings that are achieved in the cheapening of constant capital are the result of the increasing productivity of the socialised labour. The individual British capitalist not only benefits from the productivity of his own workers, but from that of the Chinese workers who produce the cheap wage goods, like clothes, that reduce the value of labour-power of his own workers, from the productivity of the Chilean copper miners who reduce the price of copper that goes into the machines he uses and so on.

Yet, the individual capitalist sees none of this arising as a product of social labour, but only of his own ability to buy low and sell high.

“He is always well aware, however, that the labourer has something to do with the employer buying much or little labour with the same amount of money (for this is how the transaction between the capitalist and labourer appears in his mind). This economy in the application of the means of production, this method of obtaining a certain result with a minimum outlay appears more than any other inner power of labour as an inherent power of capital and a method peculiar and characteristic of the capitalist mode of production.” (p 84)

Of course, from the perspective of the individual, alienated worker, things can appear in this way too. The worker only confronts these means of production as use values. Not use values owned by themselves, but owned by capital, with which they have to deal in the productive process. It is of no interest to the worker, therefore, whether these use values have a high or low value, whether they are used efficiently or inefficiently in the productive process.

This, in fact, is the main reason that capitalism, even as it tries to produce efficiently, is forced into producing inefficiently, because the greatest productive resource, that of the workers themselves, is squandered.

“The situation is quite different in factories owned by the labourers themselves, as in Rochdale, for instance.” (p 85)

To the extent that workers are cheap and replaceable, the capitalist has an incentive to wear out the workers and risk their lives, to better economise on the amount they have to spend on constant capital. We saw an example of that recently in the collapse of the factory building in Bangladesh. We have seen it in the squandering of workers lives from the continued use of asbestos. Even today, as hundreds of workers lose their lives in industrial accidents, the need for Health and Safety provision is seen as something to be made fun of and ridiculed, particularly by the Tories, who represent that section of small, inefficient capitalists. 

Moreover, to the extent that labour is cheap and constant capital is expensive, capital will always be more reluctant to introduce machines that make work lighter, than will workers who benefit thereby. Talking about the worker's co-operative at Ralahine, James Connolly wrote,

“To those who fear that the institution of common property will be inimical to progress and invention, it must be reassuring to learn that this community of ‘ignorant’ Irish peasants introduced into Ralahine the first reaping machine used in Ireland, and hailed it as a blessing at a time when the gentleman farmers of England were still gravely debating the practicability of the invention. From an address to the agricultural labourers of the County Clare, issued by the community on the introduction of this machine, we take the following passages, illustrative of the difference of effect between invention under common ownership and capitalist ownership: –

“This machine of ours is one of the first machines ever given to the working classes to lighten their labour, and at the same time increase their comforts. It does not benefit any one person among us exclusively, nor throw any individual out of employment. Any kind of machinery used for shortening labour – except used in a co-operative society like ours – must tend to lessen wages, and to deprive working men of employment, and finally either to starve them, force them into some other employment (and then reduce wages in that also) or compel them to emigrate. Now, if the working classes would cordially and peacefully unite to adopt our system, no power or party could prevent their success.”

This was published by order of the committee, 21st August, 1833, and when we observe the date we cannot but wonder at the number of things Clare – and the rest of Ireland – has forgotten since.”

No comments: