Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 19 - Part 9

“Thus the worker is the only one who pays for all commodities above their value even when he buys them at their value, because he buys money, the universal equivalent, above its value for labour. Consequently, no gain accrues to those who sell commodities to the worker. The worker does not pay the seller any more than any other buyer, he pays the value of labour. In fact, the capitalist who sells the commodity produced by the worker back to him, realises a profit on this sale, but only the same profit as he realises on every other buyer. His profit—as far as this worker is concerned—arises not from his having sold the worker the commodity above its value, but from his having previously bought it from the worker, as a matter of fact in the production process, below its value.” (p 19) 

And, this is also what lies behind the discussions of the earlier economists about exactly what it was that the worker sells to the capitalist. In the “Putting Out System”, the merchant capitalist provides material to the individual handicraft worker, who adds their labour to the means of production, and the end product is 'sold' back to the merchant. It has the appearance that the worker here sells the commodity to the merchant, but the reality is that they have sold their labour-power, because what the merchant pays the worker for this commodity is less than the new value created by the added labour, plus the value of material. Marx referred to a similar situation earlier, in relation to the Scottish pebble collectors. In that case, they had the appearance of independent producers selling a commodity to the stone cutters. In reality, there were so many pebble collectors, dependent upon selling their pebbles to the stone cutters that they had to sell the pebbles below their value. They effectively acted as their own exploiters, with the stone cutters appropriating the surplus value, in the form of the difference between what they paid for the pebbles and their actual value. 

When those handicraft workers were brought under one roof, in the period of manufacture, where labour is formally subordinated to capital, this situation is essentially continued. The workers still have the appearance of independent producers, producing a product, individually, which is bought from them by the factory owner. The discussion revolves around explaining why the factory owner thereby is able to buy this commodity for less than its value, and as Marx sets out, various reasons were set out for this, such as the risk taken by the capitalist in providing the means of production, and taking on responsibility of selling the finished product. 

But, as Marx set out, the reality here too was that what the worker was selling to the factory owner was not the commodity, which was the end result of their labour, but was their labour-power itself. As the process of the division of labour develops, within the factory, so that the handicraft worker passes through the stages of becoming a detail worker, through to being simply factory labour, the more this becomes clear, the more it becomes apparent that each worker in the factory is not an independent producer, or cost centre, each individually treating with the factory owner to establish a price for their output, but is simply a part of a collective labourer that sells not commodities to the capitalist, but sells its own labour-power as a commodity. And, it is in this way that labour is not formally subordinated to capital, but is really subordinated to capital, because now, unlike the individual handicraft worker in the Putting Out System, or manufacturing system, who had the possibility of still being an independent producer, using their own means of production, that option no longer exists, in the age of machine production. 

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