Saturday, 11 May 2019

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 20 - Part 141

The capitalist owner of means of production – constant capital – can only sell these for an equal amount of value to that which they contain. Indeed, as the owner of commodities, the capitalist seller of wage goods, can only obtain for them, from the worker, their value. But, that is not the case with variable-capital. As shown above variable-capital, in the shape of wage goods, with a value of 1 day, in employing wage labour, can exercise command over 2 day's labour, 1 day's paid labour, equal to the value of labour-power, and 1 day's unpaid labour, equal to the surplus value. As capital, commodities with a value of 1 day, can have a value of 2 days, if the rate of surplus value is 100%. 

What determines this is clearly the surplus value that the capitalist can appropriate from the employment of wage labour. But, as Marx sets out in Capital, and in Wage Labour and Capital, and in Value, Price and Profit, and elsewhere, this is not simply a subjectively determined quantum. The surplus value is not some arbitrary sum added as a surcharge to the cost of production. Nor is it a matter of a subjective battle of wills, between capitalists and workers, with greedy capitalists only prevented from reducing wages, and raising profits, as a consequence of militant, organised workers fighting for higher wages. This continual, economistic industrial struggle is merely the phenomenal form of the underlying objective conditions, which determine wages and profits, at least within certain limits. 

In other words, a minimum level for wages is set by the value of labour-power, and the value of labour-power is objectively determined by the law of value, as much as for any other commodity. Wages are the phenomenal form of the value of labour-power, and as with the market price of any other commodity, they can move above or below the value, as a consequence of fluctuations in supply and demand. The value of labour-power is the average price around which wages fluctuate above and below. 

As Engels described it,

“The history of these Unions is a long series of defeats of the working-men, interrupted by a few isolated victories. All these efforts naturally cannot alter the economic law according to which wages are determined by the relation between supply and demand in the labour market. Hence the Unions remain powerless against all great forces which influence this relation. In a commercial crisis the Union itself must reduce wages or dissolve wholly; and in a time of considerable increase in the demand for labour, it cannot fix the rate of wages higher than would be reached spontaneously by the competition of the capitalists among themselves.”

The amount of surplus value then depends upon the value that labour can create over and above what is required for its own reproduction. But, again, this is objectively determined. For any concrete labour, there are physical limits to the length of the working-day. The working-day can be lengthened, but, beyond a certain point, at any given intensity of labour, the worker becomes more quickly worn out. Up to a point, this might be recompensed by the payment of premium overtime payments, but, above a certain point, workers become less productive, become worn out, sick, or die earlier, so that they have to be replaced more frequently, with a consequent rise in the value of labour-power, and diminution of surplus value. A normal working-day is thereby derived on the basis of these objective constraints, which enables the rate of surplus value to be maximised. 

And, all of these objective constraints are themselves conditioned by technological developments. In a less developed society, the labourer's requirements may be less, but the low level of technological development means that productivity is low, and so a greater proportion of the working-day is taken up as necessary labour, so that even with a low level of standard of living, the rate of surplus value is low. In a more technologically developed economy, living standards are higher, but a smaller proportion of the working-day is required to produce it, so that the rate of surplus value is higher. 

But, for capitalist production, it is not only variable-capital that is required, even though it is only the variable-capital that creates the surplus value. The worker can only produce if they also have means of production, which means that each capitalist must advance constant capital as well as variable-capital. The amount of constant capital that must be advanced depends upon the technical composition of capital, in the specific industry, and the minimum efficient level of production. So, the value of capital, therefore, is not simply a question of the rate of surplus value, but, of the rate of profit, of the amount of surplus value that can be created for the required amount of capital (constant and variable) that must be advanced to produce it. The value of capital, as capital, is equal to this rate of profit, to its capacity of self-expansion, given the specific social relations existing at any particular time. 

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