Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 14 - Part 2

Smith correctly identified that the rent here arises because of a situation of monopoly of landed property. It is the landlord, as the monopoly owner of landed property, that demands a rent, and by restricting the supply of land, unless a rent is paid, thereby produces a monopoly price. Unless the supply of land was restricted, in this way, the surplus profit would result in additional capital being advanced, which would increase the supply of agricultural products and thereby reduce market prices. In that case, agricultural products, like all other commodities, could only be sold at their price of production

“Why does rent enter into price differently from wages and profit? That is the question. Originally, Smith had resolved value correctly, into wages, profits and rents (apart from constant capital). But almost at once he takes the opposite course and identifies value with natural price (the average price determined by competition or the cost-price of the commodities) and builds up the latter from wages, profit and rent.” (p 343) 

Marx now deals with the confusion in Smith's theory resulting from his attempt to derive the value of commodities from these separate revenues, rather than to derive these revenues from the division of the value of the commodity. The consequence is, because these revenues become identified with different forms of property, which itself becomes personified as different social classes – landlords, industrial capitalists, money-lending capitalists, wage workers – these revenues are assumed to exist even when they do not. 

If we take Robinson Crusoe on his island then he does not see the land on which he hunts, grows crops etc., as in any sense different to the means of production (tools, weapons, domesticated animals), or the labour he employs to meet his needs. All take part in his labour process to meet his needs. As Marx says, in Capital III, for such direct producers, the idea that there should be some separate revenue for the land, or for the means of production never arises, and the very concept framed in this way is absurd. The value of Robinson's production is a function of the labour-time required. That divides into two parts. On the one hand, it comprises the labour-time required to reproduce the means of production consumed in his current production, and on the other it comprises the labour-time he undertakes as new labour. If he uses a fishing net, which has to be replaced, and requires 2 hours to produce, and he spends 8 hours fishing with the net, producing 10 fish, the total value of the fish is equal to 10 hours. 

Of this 10 hours of value, 2 hours goes to reproduce the net, so that he can fish again, and 8 hours comprises his consumption fund, required to reproduce his labour-power. This 8 hours of value is his revenue, the value that can be consumed rather than having to be allocated to reproduce the means of production, so production can begin anew. But, it would not occur to Robinson that, in addition to having to allocate a certain amount of labour-time to reproducing the means of production, he had to also provide a revenue to those means of production, i.e. a share of fish, still less that he should have to provide a revenue to the water in which he fished! All of the value of his production is attributable to labour, although not all of it is attributable to his current labour, or, therefore, resolvable into revenue. In other words, 2 hours of the 10 hours value of his output is attributable to the 2 hours of value represented by the net, previously created, and consumed in his current labour process. The net has to be reproduced, and the 2 hours required to do so, is not then available as revenue. If Robinson, finds that he only needs to fish for 6 hours, rather than 8 hours, because fish stocks rise, or because an improved net raises his productivity, he can, thereby, produce 2 hours of surplus value, but, this 2 hours of surplus value is no less a consequence of his labour. 

It would not occur to Robinson that this 2 hours of surplus value was in some way a value attributable to the fishing net he used, and which he had previously produced by his labour, still less attributable to the water in which he fished. Only the value already contained in these elements of production (2 hours net, 0 hours water) are contributory to the value of total output, and reproduced in it. Consequently, as effective owner of the means of production, and of the water, it would not occur to Robinson that, out of the 2 hours surplus value, he should allocate an amount of revenue designated as “profit”, which he should obtain as owner of the means of production, or an amount of revenue designated as “rent”, which he should obtain as owner of the water, any more than he would consider his consumption as wages. Still less would Robinson consider the value of his output as deriving from the summation of revenues paid to himself as wages, profit and rent. Yet, under capitalism that is precisely what Smith's analysis does, in this second version of his theory of value. In other words, even where say a peasant producer owns the land and means of production, they use alongside their labour, Smith deduces the value of their output from a value attributable to profit, rent and wages, and effectively splits the peasant producer into three persona of capitalist, landlord and wage labourer, each of whom obtains these notional revenues. 

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