Saturday, 3 October 2015

Capital III, Chapter 15 - Part 24

Robinson Crusoe could make a mistake in his value calculations, and devote time to the production of an additional fishing net (means of production) that either he could not use, or else by using led to the production of more fish (means of consumption) than he needed. But, it would be exactly that, a mistake of value calculation. It would not cause him a crisis, unless he spent so much time on production of nets as not to have enough time left to catch fish, to meet his consumption needs.

These kinds of mistakes of value calculation plagued the economies of Eastern Europe, particularly where they devoted huge amounts of social labour-time into the production of means of production that had very long production periods, and which could only return their value itself over very long periods. This is a situation discussed by Bukharin, in his “Economics of The Transition Period”.

But, Robinson Crusoe, like a socialist economy, and like the peasant households, described by Marx, in Capital I, can undertake these value calculations, and allocate available social labour-time, so as to maximise the production of use value, rather than value. Robinson, if he had enough fish, using one net, could devote his surplus labour-time to the production of some other means of consumption, or some other means of production that would facilitate his production of some other type of use value for consumption. He would have no compelling need to produce ever more fish, or to further reduce the time required to produce the fish he needs, if instead he could use the available time, in these other ways, to expand his range of use values.

If there are no other potential use values he might produce, he may decide simply to use the available surplus time as leisure time. Or, he may use this time to develop skills etc. that do enable him to produce some other type of use value. It is this requirement, to meet his needs, rather than to simply keep expanding the amount of surplus labour-time available to him, or to continually expand the quantity of his existing use values, that determines how he allocates his labour-time.

The same would be true of a socialist society. As Engels put it in Anti-Duhring.

“The useful effects of the various articles of consumption, compared with one another and with the quantities of labour required for their production, will in the end determine the plan...

As long ago as 1844 I stated that the above-mentioned balancing of useful effects and expenditure of labour on making decisions concerning production was all that would be left, in a communist society, of the politico-economic concept of value. (Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, p. 95) The scientific justification for this statement, however, as can be seen, was made possible only by Marx's Capital.”

(Anti-Duhring, Chapter 26)

In other words, value would revert back to what it was prior to its subsequent development under commodity production and exchange, around 7,000 years ago. In place of the development of the relative and equivalent forms of value, as exchange value, and the ultimate form of that, money, as the universal equivalent form of value, value would be simply reduced to what it is, the expenditure of abstract labour-time. The Law of Value, as described by Marx in his letter to Kugelmann, and in his example of Robinson Crusoe, in Capital I, would then apply openly without the mystifying and fetishising role of exchange value and money.

The problem of the socialist society, as Engels suggests, would be how to apply this Law of Value so as to maximise welfare, i.e. the satisfaction of needs with the least expenditure of labour-time. The question would be how to allocate social labour-time so that all of its population had sufficient means of production to work with at the most efficient level, so as to produce the consumption needs of that society. The need to increase the quantity of means of production and consumption would only be a need to achieve that end. The need to increase the amount of surplus labour-time within the economy, would only be a need in so far as this surplus was required to increase the existing masses of means of production and means of consumption, or to facilitate a greater amount of free time for each member of that society to devote to their own individual development.

But, this does not apply under capitalism. Each capital does seek to produce to meet society's consumption needs. However, it does so only in so far as this is the means by which each individual capital realises the profits contained within the commodity-capital it has produced. The real goal of each capital is not to produce use values to meet consumption needs, but to produce value and surplus value, so as to make maximum profits, to be accumulated, so as to produce even more value and surplus value.

It is that drive, which, for each individual capital, is reflected in its need to produce ever larger quantities of particular use values, whether there is a market for them or not, at their market value, which leads to overproduction crises.

“The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move — these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour. The means — unconditional development of the productive forces of society — comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital. The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world-market and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production.” (p 250)

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