Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Paul Mason's Postcapitalism - A Detailed Critique - Chapter 8(3)

Surplus Product and Surplus Value

By failing to locate his analysis in the property question, a major flaw in Paul's argument arises, which was referred to earlier. Just because something has no value does not mean it has no price. If there is a natural spring on my land, the water has no value; it requires no labour for its production. But, that does not mean that if you want to drink the water, I will let you do so for free. I can levy a price for it precisely because of the property question, i.e. it is my property, and I can charge a monopoly price

Under capitalism, capitalist rent arises because of surplus profit. The property question asserts itself because landed property demands a rent, but capital will only be invested if it can obtain the average profit. Capital is only invested, therefore, where the market price obtained for its output results in a surplus profit, so that this surplus profit can be paid as rent. As Marx describes this, it means that the exchange value of the commodity must be higher than its price of production. But, a “rent” can be obtained even where that is not the case. It simply requires that supply is sufficiently constricted, as a result of capital not being invested, so as to raise the market price to a level whereby the rent can be paid. Here, the rent is a direct result of a monopoly price, rather than the existence of surplus profit. 

So long as ownership or control over socialised capital is in the hands of a minority, be it shareholders, or the state, that minority will be able to extract a surplus product. And, herein lies another important point. Just because a surplus value may not exist, that does not mean that a surplus product does not exist. I have described previously how Marx, in The Grundrisse, sets out why slaves produce a surplus product, but do not produce surplus value. Let's take the situation that Paul describes in relation to Marx’s thought experiment in The Fragment on Machines. Let's assume that a capitalist produces an android, similar to those in Humans

The android initially will have required labour to produce it, along with labour to produce the materials used in its production. It will then, have a value equal to this total quantity of labour-time expended. Now, let's assume that, having been produced, the android itself can carry out any repairs, and maintenance required for its reproduction. No labour is then involved in this work, and so no new value is created. If the android is able to access whatever materials are required for such repairs, by undertaking mineral extraction, and manufacture, then again no labour is expended, and so no new value is produced. 

The value of the materials produced and of the repairs undertaken are reduced only to the transfer of value of the android itself, in wear and tear, and this value is itself reincorporated into its value, as a result of the repair. But, having done all this there is no reason why the android cannot undertake additional work – note as described earlier that this is work undertaken by a machine, as opposed to labour undertaken by a free labourer – so as to create a surplus product that can be consumed by its owner. It might build and maintain a house, or build additional androids to facilitate such tasks; these androids might then produce the food, clothing and every other desire of the owner. The value of all this production would again be reduced only to the initial value of the android, transferred as wear and tear. There would be no new value produced, and so no surplus value. Yet, that would not prevent an ever expanding surplus product being created, larger both in quantity and in range of products. 

In place of android here put slave, and the same thing applies. And, the fact that all of this surplus product contains within it no surplus value, and an increasingly small amount of value itself, does not prevent the owner of this surplus product selling it at a monopoly price. Plantation owners in the southern US, who used slaves, produced cotton which contained no new value. It only contained the value of the seed and other materials, as well as the value of the slave transferred in the form of wear and tear. So, it contained no surplus value. Yet, that did not prevent the plantation owner obtaining a profit, because they sold the cotton in world markets not at its individual value, but at its market value. 

So long as control over production, and consequently of output, is in the hands of a minority, in other words, so long as the property question is not addressed, that minority will continue to have control of, and appropriate the surplus product, whatever the mode of distribution. Paul actually arrives at the need to address the property question in his proposals for praxis, in relation to the development of cooperatives, mutuals and so on, but this praxis dos not flow logically from his underlying analysis and assumptions. 

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