Sunday, 9 December 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 19 - Part 35

Ricardo, in Chapter XX of On the Principles of Political Economy, and Taxation, says, 

““Value, then, essentially differs from riches, for value depends not on abundance, but on the difficulty or facility of production.” (p 54) 

In other words, he is distinguishing between wealth (use values) and value. But, as Marx points out, under capitalism, which is a mode of production based upon the production of exchange-value, this is ill-conceived. It goes along with Ricardo's view that overproduction is not possible, because producers only produce to obtain use value for themselves, or to exchange with others, so as to obtain use values. 

“He therefore also denies the contradictions of bourgeois production which break out in crises. 

Hence his quite false conception of money. Hence, in considering the production process of capital, he ignores completely the circulation process, insofar as it includes the metamorphosis of commodities, the necessity of the transformation of capital into money. At any rate nobody has better and more precisely than Ricardo elaborated the point that bourgeois production is not production of wealth for the producers (as he repeatedly calls the workers) and that therefore the production of bourgeois wealth is something quite different from the production of “abundance”, of “necessaries and luxuries” for the men who produce them, as this would have to be the case if production were only a means for satisfying the needs of the producers through production dominated by use-value alone.” (p 54-5) 

In an aside, Marx also points out that value as well as use value can increase with “the facility of production”. If a working population of 1 million works for 12 hours, and produces 12 million use values, the total value is 12 million hours, and 1 hour per use value. If the working population rises to 6 million, and the productivity doubles, so that each worker only works 6 hours, to produce what previously would have required 12 hours, then the total quantity of use values (wealth) is 72 million, or six times what it was. The total value of these use values is 6 x 6 million = 36 million hours, or three times what it was, whilst the value of each use value drops to 0.5 hours. 

Ricardo, however, grasps what Sismondi does not. He writes, 

““If we lived in one of Mr. Owen’s parallelograms, and enjoyed all our productions in common, then no one could suffer in consequence of abundance, but as long as society is constituted as it now is, abundance will often be injurious to producers, and scarcity beneficial to them” ([Ricardo], On Protection to Agriculture, fourth ed., London, 1822, p.21).” (p 55) 

And, this is the point Marx sets out in The Critique of the Gotha Programme, that distribution is a function of the productive relations. It is the difference between the revolutionary Marxian approach that follows on from Ricardo's revolutionary concept of production for the sake of production, of a relentless development of the productive forces, and the reactionary Sismondian economic romanticism, which focuses on the negative aspects of capitalist production and, in order to address them, attempts to hold back that development. It is the same reactionary ideas that Lenin confronted amongst the Narodniks, in his writings on such economic romanticism. 

“Ricardo regards bourgeois, or more precisely, capitalist production as the absolute form of production, whose specific forms of production relations can therefore never enter into contradiction with, or enfetter, the aim of production—abundance—which includes both mass and variety of use-values, and which in turn implies a profuse development of man as producer, an all-round development of his productive capacities. And this is where he lands in an amusing contradiction: when we are speaking of value and riches, we should have only society as a whole in mind. But when we speak of capital and labour, then it is self-evident that “gross revenue” only exists in order to create “net revenue”. In actual fact, what he admires most about bourgeois production is that its definite forms— compared with previous forms of production—provide scope for the boundless development of the productive forces. When they cease to do this, or when contradictions appear within which they do this, he denies the contradictions, or rather, expresses the contradiction in another form by representing wealth as such—the mass of use-values in itself—without regard to the producers, as the ultima Thule.” (p 55) 

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