Monday, 6 February 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 3 - Part 26

In Volume I, it was explained how it was that, in primitive societies, the potential existed to produce a surplus, and yet none was necessarily produced. One reason was that such communities, having produced enough to meet their consumption needs, and living in favourable conditions, saw no need to expend additional labour producing in excess of those needs. It is only when labour is compelled to do additional production that this potential for surplus is turned into an actual surplus. In this sense, land, in the shape of landed property, can demand that the labourer does additional work, and thereby create additional value, as the price of being allowed to use the land.

In the same way, capital can insist that the labourers do additional work so as to produce additional value, as the price of being allowed to use the means of production. It is labour, in both cases, which produces the value and surplus value, not land or capital. Land and capital only set that labour to work, and insist that it produce this additional value, in excess of what is required for its reproduction.

“But it is equally wrong to say that wages are an original source of exchangeable value, although wages, or rather the continuous sale of labour-power, is a source of income for the labourer. It is the labour and not the wages of the labourer that creates value. Wages are only already existing value, or if we consider the whole of production, the part of the value created by the labourer which he himself appropriates; but this appropriation does not create value. His wages can therefore rise or fall without this affecting the value of the commodity produced by him.” (p 94)

For example, suppose a worker requires 10 kilos of grain, as wages, for their reproduction, and these 10 kilos require 100 hours of labour to produce. If the worker works for 200 hours, they would produce 20 kilos of grain, 10 kilos would constitute surplus product, with a value equal to 100 hours, appropriated by the capitalist. If there is a crop failure, or some other serious fall in productivity, so that the worker now produces only 8 kilos of grain, in the 200 hours, this does not change the fact that the workers need 10 kilos to reproduce their labour-power. The capitalist would then make a loss, equal to 2 kilos of grain. The worker would have created the same 200 hours of new value that they did previously. However, the 10 kg of grain required for their reproduction currently have a value equal to 250 hours.

The capitalist, therefore, makes a loss equal to 50 hours of labour. The value of the labour-power employed has risen from 100 hours to 250 hours, not only wiping out the 100 hours of surplus value, but causing the capitalist to suffer a loss of 50 hours. The rise in the value of labour-power had no effect on the value created by the labour expended by that labour-power – 200 hours of positive new value. Nor did the rise in the value of labour-power/wages, affect the price of grain.

The price of grain went from 200/20 = 10 hours per kilo, to 200/8 = 25 hours per kilo. But, as Marx describes in Capital III, in examining this situation, it is not the rise in wages that has caused this rise in grain prices. Quite the contrary. It is the rise in grain prices which has caused the rise in wages, which here are nothing more than the value of labour-power.

The rise in grain prices was a consequence of a sharp fall in social productivity, which resulted in the drop in output from 20 kilos to 8 kilos of grain, which meant that the 200 hours of expended labour was contained in this smaller quantity of use values. It was, in turn, this increase in the value of each kilo of grain which then increased the cost of reproducing labour-power, and thereby caused wages to rise.

This is only a severe opposite example to the situation where social productivity rises. Suppose instead output rose from 20 kg to 40 kg. In that case, the workers would require the same 10 kg for their reproduction, and would still produce 200 hours of positive new value. But, this 200 hours of value would now be spread over 40 kg, so that the value per kg falls to 5 hours. The total value of output remains 200 hours, but is now divided 10 x 5 = 50 hours for wages, and 30 x 5 = 150 hours surplus value.

Once again, the fall in the value of labour-power has not changed the fact that the workers expended 200 hours of living labour, and thereby created 200 hours of positive new value. Once again, it is not the fall in wages that is the cause of the fall in the value of a kg of grain, from 10 hours to 5 hours. It is the rise in the social productivity which means that output has doubled, so that the 200 hours of value created by the workers is now represented by 40 kg rather than 20 kg.

It is this fall in grain prices which thereby causes the cost of reproducing labour-power to fall which causes wages to fall. Here, the rise in social productivity caused a rise in relative surplus value. Surplus value rose from 100 hours to 150 hours, just as conversely, in the previous example, the fall in social productivity wiped out the surplus value and caused the capital to suffer a loss equal to 50 hours.

As Marx set out, in Capital III, surplus value is determined by the value of commodities – the value of the commodities produced by a quantity of labour-power minus the value of the commodities required to reproduce that labour-power. Marx quotes Smith again, and thereby emphasises the point.

““In the price of commodities, therefore, the profits of stock constitute a component part altogether different from the wages [of labour], and regulated by quite different principles” ([ibid., p. 54], [Garnier ] b. I, ch. VI, p. 99). 

Adam Smith has just shown that the value added by the workmen to the materials is divided between them and the capitalists in the form of wages and profit; labour is therefore the only source of value, and the price of wages and the price of profits arise out of this source of value. But these prices themselves are not a source of value.” (p 94-5)

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