Thursday, 1 June 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 86

Raw materials can themselves be divided into those which are the product of some labour process – steel, yarn etc. - and those which are derived from some primary product – flax, coal etc. So, this latter category itself divides into those which are the result of a vegetative process, and those that are non-vegetative, i.e. minerals and other non-organic materials.

The various combinations are extensive. For example, linen would generally be considered a consumption good, even if used as a raw material in the production of some other product, such as a shirt. But, it could also be used for the production of sails, which in Marx's time would have been used on ships carrying cargo, and which, thereby, constitutes means of production. As stated previously, it is not what various commodities could be used for that counts, but what they are used for.

A ship would constitute fixed capital, and so the flax that is contained in the linen would form a component part of this fixed capital. In a wooden sailing ship, wood would directly form a component of it. In the same way, however, various fats would be used on ropes, or as lubricants on mechanisms, as well as for candles and so on, which would thereby form part of the auxiliary materials required for the functioning of the ship.

In addition, some vegetative matter acts as raw material in its own reproduction. Seed is used for the production of crops, for example. But the seed itself is a production of those crops. In the same way, animals reproduce themselves. Even in not so direct a way, cattle may eat grass, and subsequently produce manure, which acts as fertiliser for the reproduction of the grass.

“This large part of the annual product—or of the constant part of the annual product—itself serves directly as material for regeneration, it reproduces itself.” (p 246)

For non-vegetative raw materials, this also applies. For example, coal is used in steam engines, which are used as fixed capital in the mining of coal. Here the coal acts as auxiliary material in its own production. But, coal is also used in the production of steel, which is used in the production of steam engines, as well as in pit props, steel rails for tracks for moving the coal and so on.

In a similar way, steel is used to produce the things listed above to produce coal and iron ore, which in turn is used to produce steel. So, steel is used as constant capital in its own production.

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