Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 15 - Part 42

In addition to these variations in what labour may consider as the minimum level of subsistence, there are also variations in the facility of producing these requirements. Where needs are fairly minimal, for example, in a favourable climate, it may be that the climate and fertile soils make the provision of food easier, so that a smaller portion of the working day is required to produce these necessaries. 

“Where conditions are primitive, the minimum wage may be very small (quantitatively in use-values) because the social needs are not yet developed though it may cost much labour. But even if an average amount of labour were required to produce this minimum wage, the surplus-value created, although it would be high in proportion to the wage (to the necessary labour-time) , would, even with a high rate of surplus-value, be just as meagre (proportionately)—when expressed in terms of use-values—as the wage itself.” (p 407) 

This is a fact that the Stalinists and Third Worldist proponents of theories of super-exploitation and unequal exchange do not seem to understand. 

Suppose the working day is 12 hours divided into 10 hours necessary labour and 2 hours surplus labour. The rate of surplus value is 20%. But, if the working day is 14.40 hours, with necessary labour being 12 hours, and 2.40 hours being surplus labour, the rate of surplus value is still 20%, whilst the total amount of value produced has increased from 12 hours to 14.40 hours, and the amount of surplus value has risen from 2 to 2.40 hours. 

Marx comments, 

“If, in the second case, the variable capital which is laid out were greater, then so also would be the surplus-value or surplus-labour appropriated by it.” (p 407) 

But, its not clear what he means by this. If he means that if instead of 1 worker being paid wages equal to 12 hours of labour, and producing 2.40 hours of surplus value, two workers are employed, so that the variable-capital (wages) rises to 24 hours, and surplus value rises to 4.80 hours, this is obviously correct. But, Marx seems to be making a different point which is that assuming the rate of surplus value remains the same at 20%, any increase in v brings about a corresponding rise in s. However, that brings us back to the earlier point. If v rose to 20, s would rise to 4, but that is clearly impossible, because workers could not consistently work a 24 hour day. Indeed, if they worked consistently a day of 14 or 15 hours, its likely that their productivity would quickly fall, so that the amount of surplus value produced was less than were they to work a shorter working day, and in addition, as workers were worn out more quickly, the value of labour-power itself would rise, reducing surplus value. 

That is seen today, in countries which have shorter working weeks, and more holidays, but where hourly rates of productivity are higher than countries with long hours and fewer holidays. Continuously longer hours have only been possible in countries with huge latent reserves of labour-power, which could be squandered in such a manner. As soon as those reserves are used up, and wages rise, capital is forced to create relative surplus value, by revolutionising production, and introducing labour saving machines, which also continually drive down the necessary portion of the working day, so as to drive up relative surplus value. 

If the rate of surplus value rises, then even where the necessary labour rises, the amount of surplus value may also rise. If the rate of surplus value rises from 20% to 25% then, in the above example, the necessary labour rises from 10 to 12, but now the surplus labour rises to 3, with a working day of 15 hours. 

“Both could occur if, as a result of the corn, etc., becoming dearer, the minimum wage had increased from 10 to 12 hours. Even in this case, therefore, not only might the rate of surplus-value remain the same, but the amount and rate of surplus-value might grow.” (p 407) 

If the necessary wage is equal to 10 hours and surplus labour equal to 2 hours, giving a working day of 12 hours, but the worker works for 14.40 hours, in other words, they might work 2.40 hours of overtime, this additional time might be divided still 2 hours additional wages, and 0.40 hours of surplus value. In this case, the worker would receive more in wages than the value of their labour-power, assuming that this additional labour put no noticeable additional wear and tear on the worker's body, thereby raising the value of their labour-power. 

“If one takes a given magnitude and divides it into two parts, it is clear that one part can only increase in so far as the other decreases, and vice versa, But this is by no means the case with expanding (elastic) magnitudes. And the working-day represents such an elastic magnitude, as long as no normal working-day has been won. With such magnitudes, both parts can grow, either to an equal or unequal extent. An increase in one is not brought about by a decrease in the other and vice versa. This is moreover the only case in which wages and surplus-value, in terms of exchange-value, can both increase and possibly even in equal proportions. That they can increase in terms of use-value is self-evident; this can increase even if, for example, the value of labour decreases.” (p 408) 

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