Thursday, 10 January 2019

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 20 - Part 20

For Mill, the payment of the wage is merely a convenience for the worker, saving them the problem of having to wait until their product is completed and sold, before they could obtain their share of the proceeds. This convenience is then a useful peg upon which he can hang his explanation of why this wage is less than the exchange-value of the product of their labour

“Although by resorting to this artifice Mill has indeed made it impossible for himself to grasp the specific nature, the specific features, of the proceedings which take place between capitalist and wage-worker, he has not reduced the difficulty in any way, but has increased it, because the peculiarity of the result is now no longer comprehensible in terms of the peculiarity of the commodity which the worker sells (and the specific feature of this commodity is that its use-value is itself a factor of exchange-value, its use therefore creates a greater exchange-value than it itself contained).” (p 90) 

If, as Mill suggests, the worker is a commodity owner, who sells 2 metres of linen to the capitalist, and the exchange-value of 2 metres of linen is £2, why does the worker only receive £1 from the capitalist for it? These questions have all been previously rehearsed in Capital I. The actual reason is that if the worker is paid £2, the capitalist would make no profit, and so would have no reason to employ the worker. The condition of the worker's employment is that they provide unpaid labour to capital. The only other alternative would be if the capitalist paid the worker the full exchange-value of the linen, but then sold all of their linen above its exchange-value, as the Mercantilists and Malthus suggested. In other words, the worker produces 6 metres of linen with an exchange-value of £12. Four metres is the equivalent of the exchange-value of the materials used in its production. The worker is paid £2, for the 2 metres of linen that is the product of their labour, but the capitalist sells the 6 metres for £13 instead of £12. 

But, the problem with this has already been discussed. If the capitalist sells linen above its exchange-value, then it would be expected that the yarn producer sells yarn to them above its exchange-value, just as the flax producer would sell flax to the yarn producer above its exchange-value. And the machine maker would also sell machines to the linen producer above their exchange-value and so on. All of the different capitalists would materially cheat each other, cancelling out the profit. The only people left, who would sell their commodity at its exchange-value, would be the workers, which is the same thing as saying that every commodity except labour exchanges at its exchange-value. 

“Or linen, and any other commodity, is sold at its value when the capitalist sells it, but below its value when the worker sells it. Thus the law of value would be destroyed by the transaction between worker and capitalist. And it is precisely in order to avoid this that Mill resorts to his fictitious argument. He wants to transform the relationship between worker and capitalist into the ordinary one between sellers and buyers of commodities. But why should not the ordinary law of value of commodities apply to this transaction?” (p 90-91) 

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