Thursday, 19 January 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 3 - Part 8

On the one hand, the value of labour-power increases, as a consequence of the quantity and range of the use values required for the reproduction of the labourer increasing over time, and at any one time from country to country, and between one type of concrete labour and another. On the other hand, the value of labour-power is reduced as the level of social productivity rises, so that continually less social labour-time is required to produce all of those products required for the reproduction of the labourer.

What does not vary is the fact that one hour of socially necessary labour-time produces one hour of new value. Though here what has to be recognised is that what changes is the quantity of use values which represent this quantity of value. If a hand-loom weaver produces ten metres of cloth in ten hours, this ten metres has a value equal to ten hours, or each metre has a value equal to one hour of labour-time. If power looms are introduced, so that a worker can produce one hundred metres of cloth in ten hours, this ten hours of value is now represented by ten times as many use values, or put another way, each metre of cloth only has a value of 0.10 hours of labour-time (ignoring the value of constant capital). Moreover, the value of the ten metres of cloth produced by the hand-loom weaver has also fallen to a tenth its previous value. These ten metres now also have a value of only one hour (0.10 hours per metre), because their value is determined not by the ten hours of concrete, hand loom labour embodied in their production (which continues to determine the individual value of these ten metres, however), but by the one hour of socially necessary labour-time currently required for their reproduction.

“What is true of labour itself and consequently of its measure, labour-time —that the value of commodities is always proportionate to the labour-time realised in them, no matter how the value of labour may change —is here claimed for this changing value of labour itself.” (p 77)

So long as Smith is examining an exchange of commodities, by commodity owners, who exchange commodities that are themselves the product of their labour, this contradiction does not manifest itself.

“The quantity of social labour which they command is therefore equal to the quantity of labour contained in the commodity with which they themselves make the purchase.” (p 77)

It is only when the exchange is between materialised labour and living labour, between capital and wage labour, that this contradiction becomes apparent, and leads Smith to conclude that,

“... the value of the commodity is now no longer determined by the quantity of labour it itself contains, but by the quantity —which is different from this —of living labour of others which it can command, i.e., buy...” (p 77)

But, this does not mean, therefore, that what Smith is saying is that the commodities do not exchange at their values, i.e. equal amounts of labour-time. If capital exchanges ten hours of labour-time, in the form of wage goods, and thereby obtains twelve hours of value, in the form of labour performed by a wage labourer, the value of the commodity produced by this wage labourer would then still be equal to twelve hours, and would exchange with other commodities on that basis. 

It is only here that capital and wage labour appear to break this rule, because it appears that capital has handed over only ten hours of value in order to obtain a commodity worth twelve hours of value in return. What Smith is actually saying here is that,

“...the increase of the value contained in the commodity, and the extent of this increase, depends upon the greater or less quantity of living labour which the materialised labour sets in motion. And put in this way it is correct. Smith, however, remains unclear on this point.” (p 77)

By conflating labour and labour-power this notion that capital hands over ten hours of value, in order to obtain a commodity worth twelve hours of value, leads to the false conclusion, however, that surplus value arises because of workers being cheated on their wages. That is wrong, as demonstrated earlier. The surplus value arises because the product of labour has a higher value than the value of labour-power, and that is true in all modes of production.

Without that being the case, there is no potential for accumulation of this surplus value, and consequently of social progress. Wages are merely the phenomenal form of the value of labour-power, under capitalism. The workers are not exploited as a result of being cheated on their wages, i.e. of being underpaid, paid less than the value of their labour-power. They are exploited because the surplus value produced by their labour is appropriated by another class, rather than by themselves.

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