Monday, 2 January 2017

Theories of Surplus Value Part I, Chapter 2 - Part 8

[3. Quesnay on the Three Classes in Society. Further Development of Physiocratic Theory with Turgot: Elements of a Deeper Analysis of Capitalist Relations]

Quesnay divided society into three classes.

“'“the productive class” (agricultural labourers), “the class of landowners and the sterile class” (“all the citizens occupied with other services and with other labours than those of agriculture”) (Physiocrates, etc., édition Eugéne Daire, Paris, 1846, 1 partie, p. 58).'” (p 54)

Its only the agricultural labourers that are a productive class, because it is they that produce the surplus product. The landowners merely appropriate that surplus, but it is this fact that differentiates them from the “sterile class”, within which Quesnay includes both industrial capitalists and industrial workers.

The Physiocratic system is most developed in the writing of Turgot. For him the separation of the labourer from the land as means of production is clear, and it is this separation which causes the labourer to be confronted by land as the property of another class. Meanwhile, for him, it is the gift of nature that is the source of this surplus product, and consequently, it is this which forms the basis of the appropriation of this surplus by the owners of land, i.e. nature.

This also provides the basis for the argument that it is only this agricultural labour that is productive, because it is only on the basis of the surplus of agricultural products that makes any other form of production possible.

For Turgot, the basis of this surplus value is clear. It does not arise from circulation. To the extent that agricultural products are exchanged for industrial products, they are only exchanged as equal values, the products of agriculture simply modified by industrial labour.

Rather, it is quite clear that the surplus arises purely as a result of production. The agricultural labourer takes a certain quantity of use values and produces a greater quantity of use values. After replacing those used as means of production, they have a quantity of use values that represents new production. This divides into a portion required to reproduce their labour-power, and a portion in excess of this, a surplus product.

For the direct producer, this surplus product appears to Turgot as a gift of nature. It is something obtained for which he has not expended an equal amount of labour, or paid for in terms of what he needs to consume to produce that labour. When these surplus products are exchanged for other products, therefore, they realise a surplus value, not because this surplus is created as a consequence of exchange, but because they already contained this surplus value, i.e. they already represent a value for which the producer had paid nothing, a value gifted to them by nature.

“We shall see, however, that in his writings this pure gift of nature becomes imperceptibly transformed into the surplus-labour of the labourer which the landowner has not bought, but which he sells in the products of agriculture.” (p 55)

In essence, Turgot here, as Marx sets out, has discovered the real nature of surplus value. It is a surplus created in production that is merely realised in circulation. The essence of surplus value is that it is a value in the hands of a seller, for which they have themselves given no equivalent. If it is assumed that all commodities exchange at their values – and this must be the case in total, even if not individually – then its clear that for sellers in total, this value in their hands, for which they have not paid an equivalent, cannot have come from the process of exchange.

It could only arise as a consequence of the process of production. In Physiocratic terms, a greater quantity of use values has been produced than the use values consumed in their production. 

Again, in terms of agricultural production, this seems manifest. If grain is taken to represent all of these use values, then we might have 100 kg. of grain required as seed, 500 kg. of grain required for the reproduction of the agricultural labour, and yet 1,000 kg. of grain may be the output. A use value of 100 kg. plus 500 kg. of grain = 600 kg. has produced a use value of 1000 kg. of grain, and so it seems that the surplus product of 400 kg, of grain is a free gift of nature, arising from the fertility of the soil.

“In this first conception we have, to begin with, the essence of surplus-value — that it is value realised in sale, without the seller having given an equivalent for it, without his having bought it. Unpaid value. But in the second place this is conceived as a pure gift of nature, this excess over the wage of labour; because after all it is a gift of nature, it depends on the productivity of nature that the labourer is able to produce in his day’s labour more than is necessary for the reproduction of his labour-power, more than the amount of his wages. In this first conception the total product is still appropriated by the labourer himself … And this total product is divided into two parts. The first forms his wages; he is presented as his own wage-labourer, who pays himself the part of the product that is necessary for the reproduction of his labour-power, for his subsistence. The second part, which is the excess over the first, is a gift of nature and forms surplus-value.” (p 55)

But, when the land is separated from the labourer, and the labourer becomes a wage worker, the nature of this surplus value becomes clearer, because it is appropriated, not by the labourer, but by the owner of the land.

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