Thursday, 8 June 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part i, Chapter 4 - Part 93

We have to remember that, for Marx, capital is a social relation, between capital and wage labour.

In Capital I, Chapter 16, Marx makes this clear.

“Growth of capital involves growth of its variable constituent or of the part invested in labour power. A part of the surplus-value turned into additional capital must always be re-transformed into variable capital, or additional labour fund. If we suppose that, all other circumstances remaining the same, the composition of capital also remains constant (i.e., that a definite mass of means of production constantly needs the same mass of labour power to set it in motion), then the demand for labour and the subsistence-fund of the labourers clearly increase in the same proportion as the capital, and the more rapidly, the more rapidly the capital increases... 

The more or less favourable circumstances in which the wage working class supports and multiplies itself, in no way alter the fundamental character of capitalist production. As simple reproduction constantly reproduces the capital relation itself, i.e., the relation of capitalists on the one hand, and wage workers on the other, so reproduction on a progressive scale, i.e., accumulation, reproduces the capital relation on a progressive scale, more capitalists or larger capitalists at this pole, more wage workers at that. The reproduction of a mass of labour power, which must incessantly re-incorporate itself with capital for that capital’s self-expansion; which cannot get free from capital, and whose enslavement to capital is only concealed by the variety of individual capitalists to whom it sells itself, this reproduction of labour power forms, in fact, an essential of the reproduction of capital itself. Accumulation of capital is, therefore, increase of the proletariat.”

The accumulation of capital is then, for Marx, an expansion of this relation, which means an expansion of the quantity of labour-power employed and exploited to produce surplus value. He writes,

“In short: in order to employ a greater quantity of labour, it is not enough either that a greater quantity of labour should be available, or that a greater quantity should be paid for, that is, more should be spent in wages; but the means of labour—raw material and fixed capital—must also be there in order to absorb a greater quantity of labour.” (p 254)

Marx begins by dissecting Smith's passage.

““As in a civilised country there are but few commodities of which the exchangeable value arises from labour only, rent and profit contributing largely to that of the far greater part of them, so the annual produce of its labour will always be sufficient to purchase or command a much greater quantity of labour than what was employed in raising, preparing, and bringing that produce to market” (in other words, to produce it).”” (p 255)

Here, Smith repeats the error of confusing the current living labour, which produces revenue, with the dead labour which comprises the constant capital. If a commodity is comprised of constant capital and living labour in the proportion 2:1, then the value of the commodity will be 3. So, it is obvious that the value of this commodity will command more labour than is comprised in its living component, even if all of this labour took the form of wages.

But, this is not the point Smith is trying to make in the passage above. Rather, Smith is trying to explain the fact that the product of this labour commands more labour than is used in its production, on the basis that the value also comprises the value of profits and rent as well as wages.

“What he means is that a large part of the exchangeable value of the product does not resolve itself (or as he wrongly expresses it, because of a confusion of ideas noted earlier) into wages but into profits and rents, or, as we will say to simplify things, into profits.” (p 255)

In other words, as we saw earlier, Smith is effectively accepting the conclusion arrived at by the Physiocrats about surplus value arising in production. Labour creates this new value, but it divides into a paid and unpaid portion, in respect of the workers. The paid part comprises wages, and the unpaid part divides into profit, rent, interest and taxes.

“If therefore this total product was expended in wages, it could naturally set in motion a greater quantity of labour than that of which it was the product; and in fact the proportion in which the product can set in motion more labour-time than it itself contains depends exactly on the proportion in which the working-day is divided into paid and unpaid labour-time.” (p 256)

This indeed relates back to the earlier discussion concerning Ricardo, productivity, machines and so on. Essentially, the division of the working-day, and particularly the social working day is determined by the level of productivity. The higher productivity, the smaller the number of workers required to produce a given level of output. But, likewise, the lower the value of labour-power, and the greater the rate of surplus value. But, if this surplus value is then accumulated, the greater the mass of additional labour-power employed, both because the mass of surplus value is larger, and because the cost of employing each worker is lower.

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