Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 15 - Part 41

If the amount of labour that has to be undertaken, in a day, to produce the labourer's means of subsistence, is equal to the limit of the labour the worker can work in day, then it's obvious that, whatever mode of production it is, there can be no surplus product or surplus value. That is why slavery cannot exist until social productivity has risen at least to this level whereby the slave can produce such a surplus. But, equally, therefore, its clear that capitalism cannot exist unless there is a high degree of development of social productivity, so that workers can produce the required large volumes of surplus value. 

“But it is equally obvious, that with a given labour-time (a given length of the working-day) the productivity of labour [may be very different], on the other hand, with a given productivity of labour, the labour-time, the length of the working-day, may be very different. Furthermore, it is clear that though the existence of surplus-labour presupposes that the productivity of labour has reached a certain level, the mere possibility of this surplus-labour (i.e., the existence of that necessary minimum productivity of labour), does not in itself make it a reality. For this to occur, the labourer must first be compelled to work in excess of the [necessary] time, and this compulsion is exerted by capital. This is missing in Ricardo’s work, and therefore also the whole struggle over the regulation of the normal working-day.” (p 406) 

Again, however, this struggle cannot be viewed in the way that reformists and syndicalists do, as being merely a subjective contest of wills between greedy capitalists and determined workers. As Marx sets out in Capital I, and in Value, Price and Profit, there are objective boundaries to this struggle. The value of labour-power sets a minimum level for wages, and so the necessary portion of the working-day, though this does not prevent wages being pushed below it on occasion, when there are large excess supplies of labour-power. There is an upper bound for the total working-day, for each worker, set by physiological constraints. Workers need time to rest, eat, sleep and procreate. Beyond a certain duration, at any level of intensity, the labour-power simply deteriorates, the output falls in quantity and quality, and the worker is worn out more quickly, raising the value of labour-power, and thereby diminishing the surplus value. The struggle between capital and labour over the working-day can only be fought out within the limits of these objective constraints. 

There are numerous other considerations. The value of labour-power varies in any country over time. In part, that is because, as production rises, and extends the variety of products on offer, what is a minimum itself changes. And, that also changes because the nature of what is required of the labour-power changes. More technological societies require better educated workers, and there is no point spending large amounts on educating workers, unless those workers are healthy and long-lived, which requires better healthcare, living conditions and environment. Moreover, for capitalism, its profits depend not only on the production of surplus value, but the realisation of profits, via their sale. There are only so many shoes that the workers need to buy in a year, and having bought them, there is no reason to buy more, so capital is forced to continually diversify into new types of commodity, so as to expand the market and sell its products to the workers who comprise an increasing proportion of consumers. Unless it does so, either production is unsaleable, or else can only be sold at prices that produce no profits. 

As Marx puts it, 

“The same value can be embodied in very different quantities [of commodities]. But the use-value—consumption—depends not on value, but on the quantity. It is quite unintelligible why I should buy six knives because I can get them for the same price that I previously paid for one.” 

(TOSV 3 Chapter 20, p 119) 

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