Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 21 - Part 13

The contradiction previously discussed, concerning wages, profits and accumulation can be viewed from another angle. The ability of labourers to sustain a larger population of workers, without a fall in living standards, depends on the productivity of labour. If productivity is low, and the population grows rapidly, the ability to produce enough to feed, clothe and shelter this larger population is constrained. It may mean that each worker must have less of each of these things, as the output is shared amongst them. The larger population creates additional demand, which means an increased demand for labour-power, to produce the required additional supply, which should cause wages to rise, and profits to fall, but, simultaneously, as an increased supply of labour-power, it presents itself as increased competition for available employment, which causes wages to fall. 

But, higher labour productivity appears, under capitalism, to be a consequence of higher productivity of capital. In other words, capitalists introduce machines that are more efficient, and, thereby, cause productivity to rise. Higher labour productivity means that workers can thereby sustain a larger population, without any fall in living standards. But, at the same time, this higher productivity means that less labour is required. The workers must produce the surplus that enables the capital to be introduced that raises productivity so that a larger population can be sustained without a fall in living standards, but, in doing so, they create the conditions whereby less labour is required, so that wages fall. 

“That labour depends on the growth of capital signifies nothing more than, on the one hand, the tautology that the increase in the means of subsistence and the means of employment of the population depends on the productivity of the population’s own labour and, secondly, expressed in capitalist terms, that it depends on the fact that the population’s own product confronts them as alien property and that as a consequence their own productivity confronts them as the productivity of the things which they create. 

In practice this means that the worker must appropriate the smallest possible part of his product in order that the largest possible part of it may confront him as capital; he must surrender as much as possible to the capitalist gratis, in order that the latter's means for purchasing his labour—with what has been taken away from the worker without compensation—may increase as much as possible.” (p 244-5) 

The foundations of Fordism in industry, and of social-democracy, at the level of the state, can be seen here. Under Fordism, which after WWII was codified in a series of mutuality agreements between unions and employers, workers traded an acceptance of higher rates of exploitation, as a consequence of continual rises in technology induced productivity, in exchange for annual rises in wages that increased their standard of living. As Marx describes it, 

“In this case it can happen that, if the capitalist has made the worker work a great deal for nothing, he may then, in exchange for what he has received for nothing, allow the worker to do a little less work for nothing. However, since this prevents the achievement of what is aimed at, namely, accumulation of capital as rapidly as possible, the worker must live in such circumstances that this reduction in the amount of labour he performs for nothing is in turn counteracted by a growth of the working population, either relatively as a result of the use of machinery, or absolutely as a result of early marriage.” (p 245) 

As Marx describes, subsequently, and in Capital III, Chapter 15, it is when capital expands extensively to such a degree that this increase in the mass of surplus value cannot expanded further either by an increase in absolute surplus value, via an increase in the social working-day, or by an increase in relative surplus value, because productivity does not rise fast enough to offset the demand for labour-power, which causes wages to rise, that a crisis of overproduction arises, and a search for new technological solutions must be undertaken, and rolled out as part of a new period of intensive accumulation. 

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