Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 21 - Part 82

[f) Hodgskin on the Social Character of Labour and on the Relation of Capital to Labour] 

Marx details, in this section, a number of quotes form Hodgskin which illustrate the basis of the development of social-democratic ideas. Marx’s comments, in relation to them, also illustrate the difference between Marx and the moral socialism of those like Sismondi

Marx notes Hodgskin's comments in relation to the development of social labour

““Almost every product of art and skill is the result of joint and combined labour…” (p 313) 

To which Marx adds, 

“This is the result of capitalist production.” (p 313) 

And, Hodgskin continues, 

““… So dependent is man on man, and so much does this dependence increase as society advances, that hardly any labour of any single individual … is of the least value but as forming part of the great social task…”” (p 313) 

To which Marx adds, 

“This passage has to be quoted, and in doing so [it is necessary to emphasise] that it is only on the basis of capitalism that commodity production or the production of products as commodities becomes all-embracing and affects the nature of the products themselves.” (p 313) 

Hodgskin notes that, as a result of the division of labour, it becomes impossible to determine the value of one kind of labour as against another, in the production process, because no component represents a saleable commodity, in its own right, and each labour, as with each component is as necessary as another. The only way of assigning any such value. He says, is for the labourers themselves to determine it collectively. 

Hodgskin then writes about the relation between workers and capitalists. At the time he was writing, there were many of the small capitalists who were themselves still workers. But, Hodgskin is also writing at a time when this process starts to be transformed, as the process of concentration and centralisation of capital leads to larger capitals, and the employment of professional managers. The workers themselves become better educated, and enabled to take on some of these managerial, technical and administrative functions. The individual capitalist becomes increasingly a money lending capitalist, a shareholder with contradictory interests, both to the industrial capital and to labour

““Masters […] are labourers as well as their journeymen. In this character their interest is precisely the same as that of their men. But they are also either capitalists or the agents of the capitalist, and in this respect their interest is decidedly opposed to the interest of their workmen” (loc. cit., p. 27). 

“The wide spread of education among the journeymen mechanics of this country, diminishes daily the value of the labour and skill of almost all masters and employers, by increasing the numbers of persons who possess their peculiar knowledge” (loc. cit., p. 30). 

“But put the capitalist, the oppressive middleman out of view” then “… it is plain that capital, or the power to employ labour, and coexisting labour, are one; and […]productive capital and skilled labour are also one; consequently capital and a labouring population are precisely synonymous. In the system of nature, mouths are united with hands and with intelligence” (loc. cit., p. 33).” (p 314) 

Herein lies the material basis for the ideas of social-democracy, founded upon this socialised capital, as a transitional form of property

“The capitalist mode of production disappears with the form of alienation which the various aspects of social labour bear to one another and which is represented in capital. This is the conclusion arrived at by Hodgskin.” (p 314) 

Herein also lies the distinction between the socialist and the progressive social democrat. The socialist recognises the transitional nature of these forms of property, as a necessary stage of development of the means of production, from being scattered private means of production, to private capital, to socialised capital, and ultimately to socialised means of production. Socialised capital is a necessary step along this path. But, for the progressive social democrat, the transitional form of property itself is seen as the terminal point of the journey. For the social democrat, the end point is variously seen as a more humane capitalism, in which the interests of capital and labour are viewed as intrinsically the same, and only require sensible negotiation and harmonisation; or else merely a change in form of capital from being private capital to being state capital, or worker-owned, or socially owned cooperative capital. What each of these accept, however, is that capital should continue to function as capital, which means that ultimately the interests of labour, whoever owns the capital, becomes subordinated to it. It fails to see the end goal, however necessary, and for however long the transitional period may be, as being to transcend that form of property, and to create the new social relation, within which the division between capital and labour is ended, where these two categories cease to exist, and where the means of production once more become merely that, the means by which society produces to meet its needs. 

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