Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 9

In Capital II, Marx argues that all of those accounting functions that may be necessary, even in communistic communities, do not add value. In fact, they represent a cost. Those involved in them perform a necessary task, but consume a portion of value, whilst adding none. Had those workers been employed in productive activity they would have created additional value.

However, also in Capital III, Marx sets out that, in this context, the labour employed in circulation, e.g. the labour employed in selling produced commodities, and so on, is also not productive, in this sense. But, Marx also goes on to demonstrate that the labour employed in such activity is productive in the sense that the worker enables the produced surplus value to be realised. The shop worker, for example, does not produce additional surplus value, but they do produce additional realised surplus value, because they reduce the costs of that process of realisation.

The shop worker, therefore, produces surplus value for the merchant capitalist, Marx says, because the value of their labour-power is determined, as for any other labour-power, and although such workers do not produce surplus value, their labour-power realises already produced surplus value. Provided the shop worker realises a greater quantity of surplus value, for the merchant capitals, than the latter pays them in wages, therefore, the shop worker adds to the surplus value realised by the merchant capital, and in this sense is productive of surplus value.

“To industrial capital the costs of circulation appear as unproductive expenses, and so they are. To the merchant they appear as a source of his profit, proportional, given the general rate of profit, to their size. The outlay to be made for these circulation costs is, therefore, a productive investment for mercantile capital. And for this reason, the commercial labour which it buys is likewise immediately productive for it.” (Capital III, Chapter 17)

Generally, this does not apply to that labour-power which exchanges directly with revenue. In these cases, the labour-power is not involved in the production and provision of commodities. Smith is aware that for some of these workers this is not true.

“... a seamstress whom I get to come to my house to sew shirts, or workmen who repair furniture, or the servant who scrubs and cleans the house, etc., or the cook who gives meat and other things their palatable form, fix their labour in a thing and in fact increase the value of these things in exactly the same way as the seamstress who sews in a factory, the engineer who repairs the machine, the labourers who clean the machine, or the cook who cooks in a hotel as the wage-labourer of a capitalist. These use-values are also, potentially, commodities; the shirts may be sent to the pawnshop, the house resold, the furniture put up to auction, and so on. Thus these persons have potentially also produced commodities and added value to the objects on which they have worked. But this is a very small category among unproductive workers, and does not apply either to the mass of menial servants or to parsons, government officials, soldiers, musicians and so on.” (p 164-5) 

But, Marx makes clear it is not at all a question as to whether the labour is involved in the production of a physical commodity, or whether that commodity perishes with the act of its production, rather than being fixed in some object that determines whether the labour is productive or unproductive, but only whether it exchanges with capital rather than revenue, and whether, therefore, it is productive of surplus value.

“The cook in the hotel produces a commodity for the person who as a capitalist has bought her labour—the hotel proprietor; the consumer of the mutton chops has to pay for her labour, and this labour replaces for the hotel proprietor (apart from profit) the fund out of which he continues to pay the cook. On the other hand if I buy the labour of a cook for her to cook meat, etc., for me, not to make use of it as labour in general but to enjoy it, to use it as that particular concrete kind of labour, then her labour is unproductive, in spite of the fact that this labour fixes itself in a material product and could just as well (in its result) be a vendible commodity, as it in fact is for the hotel proprietor.” (p 165)

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