Friday, 12 April 2019

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 20 - Part 112

Marx quotes McCulloch's statements in his notes, where these ideas concerning exchange-value, real value, and the basis of profit are set out. Explaining profit, McCulloch says that no capitalist would exchange commodities for an amount of labour only equal to that required for their production. 

“This would be to lend” (“to exchange” would be “to lend”) “without receiving any interest on the loan” (loc. cit., p. 96 [note to Note II]).” (p 173) 

Setting aside the idea that rather than there being an exchange of commodities, the capitalist “lends” commodities at interest, what McCulloch is really saying is that, unless the commodities (money), in the possession of the capitalist, act as capital, the capitalist cannot make profit. The commodities in their possession must command more labour than they contain. 

“What has to be explained is how profit is possible if commodities (labour or other commodities) are exchanged at their value. And the answer is that no profit would be possible if equivalents were exchanged. It is assumed, first of all, that capitalist and worker “exchange”. And then, in order to explain profit, it is assumed that they do “not” exchange, but that one of the parties lends (i.e., gives commodities) and the other borrows, that is, pays only after he has received the commodities. In other words, in order to explain profit, it is said that the capitalist secures “no interest” if he makes no profit.” (p 173-4) 

But, the commodities that the capitalist pays as wages (or their money equivalent) are not the same as those they receive back, at the end of the labour process. They are different use values. The capitalist, therefore, does not get back what they lend plus interest, as a result of this exchange, any more than they do when they exchange one commodity for another. When one commodity owner exchanges with another, the basis of the exchange is firstly that they own different use values, and both see an advantage (increase in welfare) from undertaking such an exchange. The rate at which they exchange is then determined by the respective values of the commodities to be exchanged. 
The owner of variable-capital, in the form of wage goods, or their money equivalent, exchanges these use values for the use value of labour-power, owned by the worker. The fundamental basis of the exchange is that the welfare of both parties is thereby increased. The worker, on the one hand, obtains the wage goods, or money equivalent, they require, in order to live, the capitalist obtains labour-power, whose specific use value is to perform labour, and thereby create new value, and consequently surplus value

The rate of exchange is, as with any other commodity exchange. The worker sells their labour-power, say for a day, and the capitalist pays enough to ensure that a day's labour-power can be reproduced. The labour represented by the latter, is less than the labour represented by the former, i.e. the worker provides more labour in a day than is required to reproduce their labour-power for a day, and the difference constitutes the surplus value. If the quantity of labour that workers supplied to capital was only equal to the quantity of the labour they obtain in return, as wages, then surplus value could not exist. McCulloch's explanation for why this does not arise once more descends into subjectivism. He says that the capitalist has no motive to pay wages only to receive back an equal amount of labour/value from the workers. That is true, but applies to every such exchange. It could just as easily be said that the worker has no motive to advance an amount of labour to capital, only to obtain back an equal amount of labour/value in wages, or that the seller of apples has no motive to sell a quantity representing an amount of labour, only to get back an equal amount of value in money. The motive of participants in every commodity exchange is to obtain a greater amount of labour in return, i.e. to sell high and buy low. But, that cannot explain the existence of profit, and McCulloch arrives back at the position of the Mercantilists. Instead of supporting Ricardo's Law of Value, and explaining its role as the basis of exchange of equal values, McCulloch undermines it and argues the Mercantilist case for exchange being based upon unequal exchange

Of course, whilst there are unequal exchanges, they do not explain the existence of profit overall. As Marx has demonstrated, profit is perfectly explicable on the basis of an exchange of equal values. The motive for undertaking exchange on the basis of these equal values, is the obtaining thereby of different use values, and thereby, the achievement of a higher level of welfare

“Profit upon alienation is thus explained, not by the fact that it corresponds to the law of value, but by declaring that buyers and sellers have no “motive” for buying and selling in accordance with the law of value. This is Mac’s first “sublime” discovery, it fits beautifully into the Ricardian system, which seeks to show how the law of value asserts itself despite the “motives” of seller and buyer.” (p 174-5) 

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