Thursday, 4 May 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 59

The fact that the number of paupers or what today would be called the under class, or socially excluded, grows absolutely does not mean it forms an ever larger portion of society, any more than the fact that the productive part of society may shrink relatively means that it shrinks absolutely.

“The assumption does not imply that the population is stagnant. For if the 3/3 grow, so also do the 1/3; thus, measured in quantity, a larger number of people could he employed in productive labour. But relatively, in proportion to the total population, it would always be 50 per cent less than before.” (p 218)

In Capital I, Marx indicated that even as the process of the concentration and centralisation of capital proceeds, this does not preclude the continual creation of new additional capitals, for example. Moreover, when the fetter represented by the monopoly of private capital is burst asunder, and socialised capital, in the form of huge joint stock companies, takes its place, this provides the basis for a huge expansion in the number of rentiers, even as this process itself results in a new concentration of fictitious wealth, in the hands of a few share and bondholders.

But, this same process also opens the door to a large number of unproductive labourers to arise, who provide direct personal services to this expanded number of rentiers. It was seen in the way in which every Victorian middle class family had to have its own domestic servants. Even in the 1930's and 40's that existed. My mother worked during that time in the village chemist's shop, but it was taken for granted, at such time, that she would also work as housekeeper in the chemist's house, even though her parents had their own house in the village.

“Those two-thirds of the population consist partly of the owners of profit and rent, partly of unproductive labourers (who also, owing to competition, are badly paid). The latter help the former to consume the revenue and give them in return an equivalent in services—or impose their services on them, like the political unproductive labourers.” (p 218)

What Marx could not foresee was the extent to which these direct personal services provided by this growing army of unproductive labour would itself be brought within the remit of capital, and thereby all of these unproductive labours be turned into productive labour, facilitating a further growth of surplus value and capital accumulation.

In the 19th century, 80% of people had initially worked in agriculture, but that figure rapidly declined as industrial production took off and labour was drawn to the towns. Today, 80% of production is in service industries, with agricultural production down to less than 1%, and the rest in industrial production and construction. But, this service industry is precisely that, an industry, that employs capital and in which wage labour exchanges with capital to produce those services and to produce surplus value.

“It can be supposed that—with the exception of the horde of flunkeys, the soldiers, sailors, police, lower officials and so on, mistresses, grooms, clowns and jugglers—these unproductive labourers will on the whole have a higher level of culture than the unproductive workers had previously, and in particular that ill-paid artists, musicians, lawyers, physicians, scholars, schoolmasters, inventors, etc., will also have increased in number.” (p 218)

The basic fact in relation to the rise in productivity is this.  Suppose we take corn as the proxy for the worker's means of subsistence.  If a worker requires 10 kilos of corn per week for their subsistence, and it takes a week to produce this corn, then the means of subsistence (variable capital) will only sustain the employment of 1 worker, and that with no production of surplus value.  If, productivity rises, because of the introduction of some new machine or technique, so that the 10 kilos can be produced in 1 day, then sufficient means of consumption are produced to enable 5 workers to be employed on the same basis as previously only one was employed.  The question is whether these additional four workers are themselves employed productively, or unproductively.

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