Monday, 30 January 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 3 - Part 19

The specific characteristic of capitalism is not that labour-power is a product with a value, or that it produces surplus value. It is that this product – labour-power – becomes a commodity, sold by wage workers, with nothing else to sell, and bought by capital, and it is the specific nature of this relation between wage labour and capital, which thereby enables capital to appropriate the surplus value produced by labour.

A comparison could be made with Marx’s analysis of capitalist rent. It is not, Marx says, the existence of landed property which explains rent. Rent exists because of the existence of surplus profits. However, it is the existence of landed property, which determines that these surplus profits take the form of rent, appropriated by the landowner. Similarly, it is not the existence of capitalism which explains surplus value, but it is capitalism which explains the fact that the surplus value takes the form of profit, and its appropriation by the owners of capital.

The worker, when they buy commodities, required for the reproduction of their labour-power, does so, not as a worker, but only as a buyer, an owner of money, just as the capitalist, when they sell these commodities to them, does so not as a capitalist, but merely as an owner of commodities like any other. The worker and capitalist confront each other only in these roles, at the point that the worker sells their labour-power. The capitalist makes the profit in the production process, not in the process of selling their output. At the point they sell these commodities, their value already contains the surplus value, and so, in selling them, at their value, they only realise the pre-existing surplus value.

The worker, in buying the commodities they need,

“... carries through only the act M—C, which indicates a change of form, but, as a general rule, by no means a change in magnitude of value.” (p 86)

If we take all workers together, their total output of use values, setting aside those simply transferred as constant capital, is greater than the total use values consumed by the workers. The total labour-time expended by workers in producing these use values is greater than the labour-time expended on producing the use values consumed by the workers. This is the basis for the existence of a surplus product, and a surplus value. What is true of workers as a whole is true of workers individually. The labour-time they contribute to the production of commodities is greater than the labour-time represented by the commodities they consume.

“Since however, by his labour materialised in the product, he has added not only as much labour-time as was contained in the money he received, he has paid not only an equivalent but has given surplus-labour gratis—which is precisely the source of the profit—he has thus in fact (the mediating process, the sale of his labour-power, is not relevant when we are dealing with the result) given a higher value than the value of the sum of money which forms his wages. In return, he has bought with more labour-time the quantity of labour realised in the money which comes to him as wages.” (p 86-7)

In other words, although when the exchange is examined at the level of the sale of the workers' commodity – labour-power – the worker has received its value, i.e. the labour-time required for its production, in the form of money wages, when things are examined in terms of the labour-time that the worker provides to capital, and the labour-time that the worker receives back from capital, things are quite different. Then it becomes clear that the worker has given capital a greater quantity of labour-time than they receive back from capital, in the form of wages.

“It can therefore be said that in the same way he has indirectly bought all the commodities into which the money (which is only the independent expression of a definite quantity of social labour-time) he received is converted with more labour-time than they contain, although he buys them at the same price as any other buyer or possessor of a commodity in its first transformation.” (p 87)

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