Friday, 20 July 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 17 - Part 22

Marx's conception is also again distinguished here from that of the Temporal Single System Interpretation. Talking about those types of production such as timber production, which extend over long periods, before the output is sold, he says the “accumulation and reproduction coincide in so far as the newly-added labour, which includes not only paid but also unpaid labour, must be accumulated in kind, until the product is ready for sale.” (p 487) So, Marx makes clear here that his conception of the accumulation of capital is a physical accumulation, and not merely an accumulation of value. The accumulation is an accumulation of additional labour, determined, at any point, by the technical composition of capital. Indeed, given that his conception of capital is as a social relation between capital and wage labour, an accumulation of capital can be nothing other than an expansion of this relation. This is quite different to a mere accumulation of value. So, he says, 

“We are not speaking here of the accumulation of the profit which according to the general rate of profit is added [to the capital] each year—this is not real accumulation, but only a method of accounting. We are concerned here with the accumulation of the total labour which is repeated in the course of several years, during which not only paid, but also unpaid labour is accumulated in kind and at once reconverted into capital. The accumulation of profit is in such cases however independent of the quantity of newly-added labour.” (p 487) 

In relation to commercial crops, its not only that the seeds can be used, but also that the stalks etc. can be used as manure. Dependent upon the crop, various parts of it may not be saleable, as raw material, but, nevertheless, these residues can be utilised as constant capital, in its own reproduction, and thereby represent a quantity of value. If seeds were not used from the crop they would have to be bought; if other parts of the crop were not used as compost, fertiliser etc. that too would have to be bought. In the same way as this occurs in relation to reproduction, so the utilisation of these elements of the surplus product also act as direct means of accumulation of constant capital.  As will be seen later, in Chapter 22, this caused confusion for Ramsey, and also causes confusion for the proponents of historic pricing.

“This settles one major point—the question of raw materials and means of subsistence (food), in so far as they are actually agricultural products. Here therefore, accumulation coincides directly with reproduction on a larger scale, so that a part of the surplus-product serves again as a means of production in its own sphere, without being exchanged for wages or other commodities.” (p 487) 


Blissex2 said...

«his conception of capital is as a social relation between capital and wage labour»

I have been following with some interest your attempt to explain the interesting analysis of the bearded one, but to some extent it is not radical: a difficulty with that analysis is the constant use of misleading terminology, which means understanding "what does he mean with that" unnecessarily hard.

The above is the central example: how can "capital" be at the same time a social relationship and something else between itself and "wage labour"? There is an explanation for that of course, but the use of "capital" in two entirely different levels of meaning is unnecessarily confusing.

Boffy said...

I tend to agree on that point, but I don't think its that difficult to grasp of the whole thing is read in context. It would be possible to refer to "capital" as means of production, or as machinery, materials etc., but that is the problem that Marx is specifically trying to avoid because he wants to make clear the historical specificity of the nature of those means of production as capital, as self-expanding value, as opposed to those same means of production in other modes of production, where they do not exist as self-expanding value.

In other words, a power drill is capital precisely because of the social context it is placed in, as a tool in the hands of a wage labourer, employed to produce profit, as opposed to being simply a tool in the hands of a DIY fanatic used to put up shelves in their home.

Boffy said...

On further reflection, the answer I gave above was inadequate and incomplete. It gives me an opportunity to set out a more rounded answer.

Part of the answer here is Marx's division of the value of commodities/national output into capital and revenue. By capital here he means that part of value that is transferred from constant capital, and reproduced out of current output. Revenue comprises the new labour added to it in the current year, the value of which divides into wages, profit, rent, interest and taxes, and is used to fund consumption by the recipients of those revenues.

In Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 22, Marx in discussing the work of Ramsey, says that Ramsey got this point right. Ramsey, in contrast, to other economists also says that the value of commodities is comprised of the value of constant capital (that he terms fixed capital) plus labour. He goes out of his way to correctly state that it is the combination of the value of constant capital, plus labour, not wages, or circulating capital, which is what he calls variable capital. Unlike earlier economists, Ramsey actually gets the definition of the components of these two types of capital right, though he uses the wrong, or different terms for them than Marx. Ramsey also failed to see that what applies to the value of individual commodities also applies to the value of national output.

But, he correctly notes that the variable-capital plays no part in this composition of value. The variable capital - the wage goods consumed by workers - plays no part in the labour process. However, he fails to notice that without the variable capital there would be no wage labour. If workers owned the means of production, they could produce their means of consumption (variable-capital) themselves, and would have no need to sell their labour-power. If they owned their means of subsistence, again they would not need to sell their labour-power, so wage labour would not exist. So, the relation actually is between capital (constant and variable) to wage labour, even though the variable-capital plays no part in production or the determination of value.

Moreover, the relation that Marx describes plays another part, because it illustrates his other definition of capital as self-expanding value. One way to consider this is in terms of computer programming. A self-expanding value of a variable takes the form "X = X +1". It seems contradictory to say that X is equal to itself plus something else, but that is only if its viewed syllogistically. The whole nature of expansion requires that it is equal to itself plus an additional value. Capital is such a relationship of itself to something in addition to itself, i.e. to wage labour, because it is the latter which is the means of self-expansion via the production of surplus value.