Monday, 28 September 2015

Capital III, Chapter 15 - Part 19

But, if we take the reality of the situation, the consequence of the change in the labour process, resulting from these technological changes is that the labour of the 2 workers at time t+1, is not necessarily comparable with the labour of the 24 workers at time t. As Marx sets out in the Grundrisse, in describing another aspect of this process, in relation to the civilising mission of capital, the very process by which rising productivity necessitates that an increasing range of use values are produced and sold to workers, of itself changes the nature of the workers as human beings, and thereby of their labour. They necessarily become more educated, more cultured etc. and along with it, their labour is also transformed, creating more value in any period of time compared with their predecessors. In other words, the labour of current workers stands in relation to the labour of workers in the past in the same relation that complex labour stands to simple labour, in the same way that labour in a developed economy stands to labour in a less developed economy.

This can be seen by thinking about some particular type of labour. Take something such as furniture making. At time t, the makers of furniture produce fairly rudimentary articles. Even if we assume no technological change, leading to higher productivity, over several generations the skill of the furniture makers improves as it is passed down, and each new generation is taught by the last. If we then compare a chair produced, in a week, by a worker of the first generation with a chair produced, in a week, by this latter generation, we will find that they are not the same. The use value of the latter will be much higher. Although both will have taken a week to produce, the exchange value of the latter will be much higher than that of the former, which means that the labour of the latter stands in relation to the former in the same way that complex labour stands to simple labour.

For the same reason it is simply not possible to say that the technological processes which result in a reduction in the number of workers employed in some particular line of business is the same as a reduction in the quantity of labour undertaken, because these are two different things. The first only measures how much of some concrete labour is employed, whereas the latter measures how much abstract labour is employed.

If we take the above example, of a furniture maker, and assume no change in the value of labour-power, both workers may require 2 days of abstract labour-time to reproduce their labour-power. Assuming a five day week, the chair produced by the first has five days of added labour included in it, giving a rate of surplus value of 150%. But, if the chair produced by the second sells for twice the price of the former, it is as though it comprises 10 days of abstract labour-time. In that case, it would contain the equivalent of 8 days of surplus labour, so the rate of surplus value would be 400%. In fact, it would contain more abstract labour, than the amount of concrete labour in total in a week!

Put another way, a current furniture maker, even without consideration of any rise in the rate of surplus value due to rises in productivity, would produce more surplus value in one week of their labour than would 2 workers in a week of their labour-time previously. If we think about a range of concrete labours today compared to their past equivalents, its clear that this is true. For example, the value of an hour's teaching today is several times greater than that of an hour's teaching 100 years ago. The product of an hour's labour by a Premier League footballer, or a top entertainer and so on, is thousands of times greater today than that of their equivalents 50 years ago.

If we take the social context in which the labour is performed into account, in other words, if we look at the reality of the labour process for the total social capital, rather than for some individual capital, in a static sense, then it becomes clear that the more labour becomes employed in those activities that are high value, even as the number of workers employed falls, either relatively or absolutely, the complex nature of the labour employed means that a greater quantity of abstract labour is performed, so that even with relatively high wages, the rate and mass of surplus value rises, and the rate of profit rises along with it.  (See the final part of my response to Dr. Paul Cockshott).

The extent of this process can be seen by Marx's comments in the Grundrisse, and later in Capital III. The way capitalist development itself changes the nature of the worker as a human being, and thereby changes the nature of the labour they provide is captured by Marx when he says,

“...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.” (Grundrisse).

And in Capital III, Chapter 17, Marx writes,

“The commercial worker, in the strict sense of the term, belongs to the better-paid class of wage-workers — to those whose labour is classed as skilled and stands above average labour. Yet the wage tends to fall, even in relation to average labour, with the advance of the capitalist mode of production. This is due partly to the division of labour in the office, implying a one-sided development of the labour capacity, the cost of which does not fall entirely on the capitalist, since the labourer's skill develops by itself through the exercise of his function, and all the more rapidly as division of labour makes it more one-sided. Secondly, because the necessary training, knowledge of commercial practices, languages, etc., is more and more rapidly, easily, universally and cheaply reproduced with the progress of science and public education the more the capitalist mode of production directs teaching methods, etc., towards practical purposes. The universality of public education enables capitalists to recruit such labourers from classes that formerly had no access to such trades and were accustomed to a lower standard of living. Moreover, this increases supply, and hence competition. With few exceptions, the labour-power of these people is therefore devaluated with the progress of capitalist production. Their wage falls, while their labour capacity increases.”

Marx is talking here about commercial workers employed in the process of realising rather than producing surplus value, but the same principle applies, probably to an even greater extent to the huge expansion in the number of such skilled workers that capital requires for the production of surplus value too.

No comments: