Friday, 20 January 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 3 - Part 9

[2. Contradictions in the System of the Physiocrats: the Feudal Shell of the System and Its Bourgeois Essence; the Twofold Treatment of Surplus-Value]

The idea that commodities exchange at their values, and that these values are determined by the labour-time required for their production, or what appears to Smith as the same thing, the amount of labour these commodities can command, is fine so long as commodities are merely produced and exchanged by individual producers. But, as soon as Smith then came to analyse the actual situation under capitalism, where the exchange is between wage labour and capital, this seems to him to break down. It appears to him that the commodity the workers sells to capital, labour, is not paid its full price, and it is from this fact that surplus value arises.

Marx quotes Smith, to establish his starting position.

““In that early and rude state of society which precedes both the accumulation of stock and the appropriation of land, the proportion between the quantities of labour necessary for acquiring different objects, seems to be the only circumstance which can afford any rule for exchanging them for one another… It is natural that what is usually the produce of two days’ or two hours’ labour, should be worth double of what is usually the produce of one day’s or one hour’s labour” ([ibid., p. 52] t. I, ch. VI. pp. 94–95, Garnier).” (p 78)

So, it is labour-time which determines the proportions in which commodities exchange, their exchange value.

Smith continues.

““In this state of things, the whole produce of labour belongs to the labourer; and the quantity of labour commonly employed in acquiring or producing any commodity, is the only circumstance which can regulate the quantity of labour which it ought commonly to purchase, command, or exchange for” ([ibid., p. 53], [Garnier] l.c., p. 96).” (p 78)

The situation here is that the labourer does not sell their labour-power as a commodity. What they sell is only the product of their labour. The value of that product is determined by the labour-time required for its production, which is necessarily different to the value of the labour-power used in its production.

Similarly, therefore, the amount of labour this commodity can command is different to the labour used in its production, because here, labour-power is bought as a commodity, in exchange for this commodity. The exchange value of the commodity, labour-power, is determined in the same way as the value of the commodity given in exchange for it. That is, on the basis of the labour-time required for its production. But, this quantity of labour-time is in no way the same as, or determinant of, the quantity of labour that this labour-power then performs, after it has been bought. That is a function of a series of other conditions, which determine the length and intensity of the normal working day.

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