Thursday, 17 August 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Addenda - Part 17

The peasant produces a surplus product over and above what is required for their own reproduction, because tradition and the social rank of the feudal lord entitles them to demand, as tribute, the surplus labour-time. But the surplus labour-time that the worker gives gratis to capital is the price the worker has to pay to be able to work at all.

And yet the basis of the surplus value remains essentially the same in both cases. It is that the value of the labour-power is less than the value the labour itself creates.

As the owner of these means of production that now confront the worker as capital, it appears to be that it is this relation between the capitalist and the worker that is determinant, whereas these are only the personification of the real relation, which is that between capital and labour. In fact, as Marx analyses in Capital III, by the late 19th century, the individual private capitalist was beginning to disappear from this relation. Engels, in his Critique of the Erfurt Programme, was able to state that private capitalist production was by then the exception.

Private capitalist property and production had been replaced by socialised capital, in the shape of the joint stock company and co-operative. The role of the private capitalist had been taken over by the professional manager, employed as a form of skilled labour, and in the case of the worker-owned co-operatives, employed by the workers themselves.

Yet, even in the case of the co-operative, the role of these managers was to act as the personification of this socialised capital, and to act as its representative, to fulfil the task of pumping surplus value out of labour, so that this capital could expand and subsequently accumulate.

“The social forms of their own labour or the forms of their own social labour are relations that have been formed quite independently of the individual labourers; the labourers, as subsumed under capital, become elements of these social formations —but these social formations do not belong to them. They therefore confront them as forms of capital itself, as combinations belonging to capital, as distinct from their individual labour-power, arising from capital and incorporated in it. And this takes on a form that is all the more real the more on the one hand their labour-power itself becomes so modified by these forms that it is powerless as an independent force, that is to say, outside this capitalist relationship, and that its independent capacity to produce is destroyed. And on the other hand, with the development of machinery the conditions of labour seem to dominate Labour also technologically while at the same time they replace labour, oppress it, and make it superfluous in its independent forms.” (p 391)

In Capital I, Marx described this historical process. The worker begins as a skilled worker. What they produce and sell as an independent producer, is not their labour-power, but the product of that labour-power. That is still apparently the case with the putting out system, for example, where what the worker appears to sell back to the merchant is a quantity of finished product. It is still in view when these handicraft workers are brought together within the manufactory. That is what lies behind the discussion earlier, about the proportion of the total product that the workers could be considered to be selling to the capitalist, and the reason this leads to the need to justify the capitalist's profit out of this exchange by various means.

But, the reality is that already here the worker is no longer selling a commodity produced by their labour to the capitalist, but is selling their labour-power itself as a commodity. Yet, the potential still exists here for such a skilled handicraft producer to still be an independent producer of commodities. The reason that such producers were absorbed into the putting out system was usually having run up debts, which prevented them buying their own raw materials. But, the number of hand-loom weavers, even after the initial introduction of the power-loom, remained high for some time.

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