Saturday, 17 October 2015

Capital III, Chapter 15 - Part 38

The other argument put forward by Say etc., to deny the possibility of a general overproduction, is that any overproduction could simply be consumed by the capitalists themselves, thereby removing any commodities that were not being consumed from the market. But, Marx explains why this is not possible. In fact, he'd described that earlier in the chapter, in explaining that the purpose of capitalist production is not to increase the consumption of capitalists.

“If it is finally said that the capitalists have only to exchange and consume their commodities among themselves, then the entire nature of the capitalist mode of production is lost sight of; and also forgotten is the fact that it is a matter of expanding the value of the capital, not consuming it.” (p 257)

In other words, there is no reason why overproduction should arise for a society whose aim is to meet its consumption needs. In fact, in Capital II, Marx sets out why a socialist society would have to overproduce fixed capital each year, so as to even out the fact that some years more and some years less fixed capital would wear out and need to be replaced.

Overproduction is a crisis for capitalism because it is only overproduction in capitalist limits. It is not that too much has been produced to meet society's needs, but only too much to be able to return an increased profit.

“The contradiction of the capitalist mode of production, however, lies precisely in its tendency towards an absolute development of the productive forces, which continually come into conflict with the specific conditions of production in which capital moves, and alone can move.

There are not too many necessities of life produced, in proportion to the existing population. Quite the reverse. Too little is produced to decently and humanely satisfy the wants of the great mass.” (p 257)

As Engels describes in the next section, capital only introduces new machines if the machine is cheaper than the paid portion of the labour it replaces. Marx had demonstrated the same point in Capital I. This is again a difference with a co-operative society. The workers at the agricultural co-operative at Ralahine were the first to introduce a reaping machine ahead of any capitalist farmers, for precisely this reason. For the co-operative, provided the cost of the machine was less than the total value of a day's labour, i.e. paid and unpaid part of the day, necessary and surplus labour, its introduction was justified, because it saved the society labour-time, it lightened the load upon the workers, and increased their productivity. But, the capitalist would only introduce such a machine if it directly increased their profit.

It is not then a case that the instruments of labour are overproduced in this absolute sense – as with Robinson Crusoe producing too many fishing nets. On the contrary, if more instruments of labour were produced, more workers could be employed, they would be more productive and their burden would be reduced. Without sufficient means of production to work with, workers then are left unemployed or under employed. These then are placed in a position where they are a burden on the rest of the working-class.

They fall into that social strata that Marx called the lumpen-proletariat. They live off the rest of the working class in one form or another through prostitution, beggary, crime etc. Today, that occurs both in these ways, and via the Welfare State, which transfers money collected in taxes from one section of the working-class, and pays it out in benefits to another.

“In the first place, too large a portion of the produced population is not really capable of working, and is through force of circumstances made dependent on exploiting the labour of others, or on labour which can pass under this name only under a miserable mode of production.” (p 258)

Besides these formerly described layers, there are also added all those destroyed by the capitalist system itself. In the 19th century, it was the overwhelmingly manual nature of labour that resulted in the physical crippling of workers due to unhealthy and dangerous working conditions. Today, large numbers of workers continue to be killed and crippled at work, but the fact that today most workers work at least as much with their brain as with their hands, has led to the biggest maiming effect on workers being of their mind, as mental illnesses increase substantially. All of these workers, besides their own trauma are, therefore, removed from being fully productive members of society.

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