Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Normal Working Day - Part 3 of 7

 As Marx says, however, the historically progressive role played by all class society is to act as an external whip on the producers, driving them to engage in labour beyond what is necessary, so as to create the surplus product, and it is from this surplus product that means of production are accumulated, which in turn raises productivity, and drives further development of the productive forces. That is particularly the case with capitalism.

“To assert, as sentimental opponents of Ricardo’s did, that production as such is not the object, is to forget that production for its own sake means nothing but the development of human productive forces, in other words the development of the richness of human nature as an end in itself. To oppose the welfare of the individual to this end, as Sismondi does, is to assert that the development of the species must be arrested in order to safeguard the welfare of the individual, so that, for instance, no war may be waged in which at all events some individuals perish. Sismondi is only right as against the economists who conceal or deny this contradiction.) Apart from the barrenness of such edifying reflections, they reveal a failure to understand the fact that, although at first the development of the capacities of the human species takes place at the cost of the majority of human individuals and even classes, in the end it breaks through this contradiction and coincides with the development of the individual; the higher development of individuality is thus only achieved by a historical process during which individuals are sacrificed for the interests of the species in the human kingdom, as in the animal and plant kingdoms, always assert themselves at the cost of the interests of individuals, because these interests of the species coincide only with the interests of certain individuals, and it is this coincidence which constitutes the strength of these privileged individuals.”

(Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 9)

The length of the necessary working-day is then objectively determinable, even if this length varies according to time and place. The labourer in a temperate climate requires a shorter amount of time to produce clothing, shelter and food than a labourer in a harsh climate. A labourer who lives in a cave and wears animal skins is not likely to possess the kind of labour-power required to write computer programmes.

So, there are opposing influences on the length of the necessary working-day. On the one hand, the amount of necessary labour varies according to time and place, because the basket of products required to reproduce labour-power itself varies according to time and place. On the other hand, the amount of labour required to reproduce these products also varies according to time and place. In favourable locations, less labour is required to obtain the required level of output; over time, social productivity rises, so that less labour is required to produce a given number of products than was previously the case.

But, this latter factor also then operates as a feedback loop on to the former, and vice versa. As social productivity rises, so that a smaller part of the working-day is taken up in necessary labour, so the portion of the day amounting to surplus labour enables time to be spent not just in producing new and additional means of production, so as to raise future productivity, but to be spent on other pursuits, and a widening of needs and desires.

The ancient Egyptians, Marx says, blessed with a good climate and fertile soil, were able to devote a greater portion of the day to surplus production, and this enabled some of them to study astronomy etc. One reason for them to do so, he says, was to understand the cycles of the Nile, whose rise and fall was fundamental to their agriculture.

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