Monday, 7 May 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 15 - Part 40

What Ricardo fails to deal with is this. The value of labour(power) is objectively determinable on the basis he has outlined, of the quantity of labour required to reproduce the workers' means of subsistence, but the value of the product of labour is only equal to this value if you assume a fixed working-day, whereby the worker only works the same hours as are required to reproduce the value of those means of subsistence. That effectively is what Ricardo does, so that he rules out the possibility of absolute surplus value. But, there is no reason why this would be the case. In fact, the whole history of mankind has been premised around the fact that, once social productivity rose beyond a certain minimum level, so that more could be produced than what was necessary for subsistence, the surplus labour undertaken, which, thereby, formed a surplus product, and surplus value, could be used to undertake production on an expanded scale

“This means, therefore, if we consider his daily average consumption, that the labour-time which is contained in his daily means of subsistence, forms one part of his working-day. He works one part of the day in order to reproduce the value of his means of subsistence; the commodities which he produces in this part of the working-day have the same value, or represent a quantity of labour-time equal to that contained in his daily means of subsistence. It depends on the value of these means of subsistence—in other words on the social productivity of labour and not on the productivity of the individual branch of production in which he works—how great a part of his working-day is devoted to the reproduction or production of the value, i.e., the equivalent, of his means of subsistence.” (p 405) 

In this respect, Ricardo is behind Smith. Smith, following on from the Physiocrats, had already correctly identified the source of surplus value in production. Smith not only advanced beyond the Physiocrats, by identifying value as labour, not use value, but also that surplus value is surplus labour. Ricardo's argument is essentially Physiocratic, because it equates the product of labour with the products consumed by the labourer – physical inputs equal physical outputs – and, from that perspective, is even behind the Physiocrats, because on this basis even a surplus product is impossible. Logically, for Ricardo, if the working-day extends from an 8 hour day to a 10 hour day, this is matched by the value of the means of consumption for the worker rising from 8 hours to 10 hours also. 

“Ricardo of course assumes that the labour-time contained in the daily means of subsistence is equal to the labour-time which the labourer must work daily in order to reproduce the value of these means of subsistence. But by not directly showing that one part of the labourer’s working-day is assigned to the reproduction of the value of his own labour-power, he introduces a difficulty and obscures the clear understanding of the relationship.” (p 405) 

This failure to identify the source of surplus value created problems for his followers. But, unable to break out of the limitations of his theory, they were led to ever more scholastic solutions to resolve the problem. The consequence is that, unable to determine that the total working-day is divided into necessary and surplus labour, not only is the total working-day considered as fixed, but variations in the quantity of surplus value are overlooked, which creates additional problems in identifying the basis of an average rate of profit, and prices of production

Ricardo, having failed to identify the source of surplus value simply assumes its existence, and identifies the average rate of profit solely on the basis of competition. The consequence, as Marx sets out, is also that Ricardo, thereby, fails to establish the historical case for capital, i.e. that the productivity of capital derives from its need to compel the undertaking of surplus labour, and in addition, its need to maximise that surplus labour, requires a continual drive to reduce the portion of the working-day devoted to necessary labour, and that can only be accomplished by a continual revolution in technology, and technique, so as to raise social productivity. 

“Adam Smith, however, had already stated the correct formula. Important as it was, to resolve value into labour, it was equally important to resolve surplus-value into surplus-labour, and to do so in explicit terms.” (p 405) 

Ricardo, by contrast, simply leaves these questions unexplained. He starts from the reality of capitalist production, whereby the value of the product of labour is greater than the wages of labour, resulting in a profit, but where this profit (actually surplus value) comes from he never says. 

“The magnitude of the total working-day is therefore wrongly assumed to be fixed, and directly entails wrong conclusions. The increase or decrease in surplus-value can therefore be explained only from the growing or diminishing productivity of social labour which produces the means of subsistence. That is to say, only relative surplus-value is understood.” (p 406) 

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