Monday, 2 July 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 17 - Part 4

By contrast to the fixed capital, which has very extended lifespans, other elements of fixed capital may be worn out and need to be replaced within the year, or shorter period, similar to the circulating capital. Marx says, in relation to the constant capital that must be reproduced within the year, 

“A large part of what appears as constant capital—instruments and materials of labour—in one sphere of production, is simultaneously the product of another, parallel sphere of production. For example, yarn which forms part of the constant capital of the weaver, is the product of the spinner, and may still have been in the process of becoming yarn on the previous day. When we use the term simultaneous here, we mean produced during the same year. The same commodities in different phases pass through various spheres of production in the course of the same year.” (p 471) 

That is only because the year has been taken as the standard accounting period over which to take measurements, and to analyse the process of social reproduction. It is, in this sense, a purely artificial metric, especially given that capitalist production is a wholly continuous process. Things do not stop at the end of this yearly period, and then start again on the following day in a new year. Indeed, as Marx says here, the yarn being turned into cloth today was only yesterday cotton or flax, being turned into yarn, and today that yarn being consumed in the production of cloth is being simultaneously reproduced by the spinner. The whole nature of continuity, of flux and movement, be it the movement in production or anywhere else in the material world, necessitates the concept of simultaneity, and the dialectical contradiction it entails. 

Instead of using a year as the basic period of analysis, it would be just as valid to have chosen a month, week, day or hour, because the continuous nature of the process means the same statement could be made about any of these periods, down to the very smallest periods of time. With globalisation ensuring that social reproduction truly continues around the clock, and with ever rising rates of productivity continually reducing the working period, and rate of turnover of capital, and with Just In Time production and stock control systems, that is even more the case. 

Just consider, in the modern world, where a customer passes, every few seconds, through a supermarket checkout, the details of their purchases are sent instantaneously to a central computer system that adjusts stock control records, whilst simultaneously aggregating this data and sending orders to suppliers for replacement items, whilst those suppliers adjust their production accordingly, and send their own order to their own suppliers etc. Such integrated systems have existed now for more than 30 years. 

In the meantime, the customer at the checkout has swiped their debit or credit card through the till, so that the equivalent amount of exchange-value is deducted from their bank account, and instantly transferred to that of the store, so that the capital advanced for the production and distribution of these commodities, is turned over, in a matter of minutes, as the store in turn makes electronic payments to its suppliers for the physical reproduction and replacement of all the bought items. Compare that with the situation even fifty years ago, when workers were paid their wages each week in notes and coins. They would go along, at the end of the week, to the grocer, greengrocer and butcher to buy necessaries. They would buy what they needed, and hand over the cash. All of those shop owners would then have to go to their bank, to deposit the funds, which only then were available for them to use to make replacement purchases. 

But, before they could do that, they also had to physically stock take to total up what had been sold, and what needed to be replenished; a task I had to undertake in a range of different companies during those times. Orders to suppliers would then be made by phone or a physical visit, or by post. And this process was repeated for every stage backwards along the chain. In the 1970's, I worked for a large glaziers, and glass suppliers, and one of my weekly tasks was to climb up a ladder, to physically count every large sheet of glass, of each type, pattern and thickness, held in stock, so as to ensure that everything that had gone out could be continuously replaced on a like for like basis

“The same commodities which are thus consumed as constant capital in the course of the year are also, in the same way continuously being produced during the same year.” (p 491-2) 

And, as illustrated above, “during the same year” here also means during the same month, week, day, hour, minute, second, because this process of capitalist production and distribution is continuous. What is being consumed is simultaneously being produced, and what is being produced is simultaneously being consumed. 

“A machine is wearing out in sphere A. It is simultaneously being produced in sphere B. The constant capital that is consumed during a year in those spheres of production which produce the means of subsistence, is simultaneously being produced in other spheres of production, so that during the course of the year or by the end of the year it is renewed in kind. Both of them, the means of subsistence as well as this part of the constant capital, are the products of new labour employed during the year.” (p 472) 

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