Thursday, 11 July 2019

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 21 - Part 49

Marx also, in this section, exposes the fallacy contained in the arguments for the use of historic pricing, put forward by proponents of the Temporal Single System Interpretation. Marx notes that “past labour” exists, here, in two forms. One the one hand, it exists as use value, on the other it exists as value. It is undoubtedly true, to use one of the examples put forward to justify the use of historic prices, that you cannot build a house today with the bricks of tomorrow. But, all that tells us is that the labour process of today cannot be undertaken with the specific individual use values of tomorrow, it tells us nothing about the value relations. In fact, what it implies is commodity fetishism, with a concept of value as something intrinsic or embodied and fixed in the commodity, as a consequence of past labour. That is contrary to Marx's concept of value as social or market value, based upon average socially necessary labour. It implies that the commodities that are the products of past labour, and constitute the elements of capital, can somehow have a separate and different market value to every other such commodity of that class, currently in production, or on the market. 

The bourgeois economists proclaim that it is the products of past labour that constitute capital, and it is this vast accumulation of the products of past labour that makes the rise in productivity possible, and which is, thereby, the main source of social wealth. It is that which justifies the dominance of this past labour over living labour. 

It is for this reason that Hodgskin asserts on the contrary that this physical factor, that is, the entire material wealth, is quite unimportant compared with the living process of production and that, in fact, this wealth has no value in itself, but only insofar as it is a factor in the living production process. In doing so, he underestimates somewhat the value which the labour of the past has for the labour of the present, but in opposing economic fetishism this is quite all right.” (p 276) 

Marx quotes extensively from Hodgskin where he tries to make the point that a large part of the effects attributed to circulating capital are actually attributable to “the simultaneous coexistence of living labour.” (p 276) 

Hodgskin points out that all of the bread consumed by workers is only ever produced a few hours before they buy it, and so the idea that capitalists have accumulated a large supply of it, as variable-capital, available as wages, is false. Rather than existing as such a stock of past labour, it is mostly the result of simultaneous production, by coexisting labour, i.e. bakery workers are currently and simultaneously labouring to produce the bread consumed today by workers, who, for example, are also undertaking simultaneous, coexisting labour producing coal that the bakery workers buy to heat their homes, or their employer buys to heat the bread ovens. 

Another example, Hodgskin says is milk, which has to be produced twice a day. And, the grass that the cows eat, is continuously growing, during the year, rather than having to be bought in one large amount. Clothes too are only prepared as a small stock, at any one time, because otherwise the capitalists would find that, if they hold them for any length of time, they would be eaten by moths. Today, they would be feared to be out of fashion. 

And, Hodgskin makes the point that it is not the fact that the capitalist has any such stock of commodities that explains the profit, but the fact that they have command over immediate labour. 

““ …all the effects usually attributed to accumulation of circulating capital are derived from the accumulation and storing up of skilled labour; and […] this most important operation is performed, as far as the great mass of the labourers is concerned without any circulating capital whatever” (loc. cit., p. 13).” (p 278) 

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