Friday, 23 August 2019

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 22 - Part 4

As Engels says, in his Preface to Capital III, the effect of these two is the same. However, if we adopt the first assumption, that all workers are always paid wages lower than the value of their labour or product of their labour, then we lose all objective means of determining surplus value, and the rate of surplus value. It becomes purely an arbitrary and subjective matter of the extent to which capital feels it is able to underpay workers for the work they provide, or that workers are able to resist or raise their wages/social wage by "more militancy".   In other words, it becomes an application of the Lassallean approach that leads to mistaken views about wages and immiseration as set out in the Iron Law of Wages.  But, if we adopt the second approach, and assume that what workers sell to capital is not their labour, or the product of their labour, but a commoditylabour-power – then this commodity will have an objectively determined value, the same as any other commodity. As with any other commodity that value will be determined by the labour required for its reproduction. 

Moreover, as Ramsay himself recognised, in the earlier quotes, there is no reason why this value has to be equal to the value which the worker then creates having been employed. If the commodities required to reproduce a workers' labour-power for a day, requires 8 hours labour to produce, then, when the capitalist pays the worker a wage equal to 8 hours labour, sufficient to buy the commodities, the capitalist pays the worker the full amount of the value of the commodity – labour-power – that the worker sells to them. The wage is then no arbitrary amount, but is objectively determined, as with any other commodity, as being the labour-time required for the reproduction of that labour-power. 

But, having sold their labour-power to the capitalist, for the day, there is then no reason why the capitalist will only employ that labour-power for a part of the day. The capitalist will set the worker to work for, say, 12 hours. The worker will thereby create 12 hours of new value, 4 hours more value than it has cost the capitalist to buy their labour-power, and its on that basis that the capitalist obtains 4 hours of surplus value, 4 hours of labour for which they have not paid. Again, the extent to which this surplus labour can be extended is not arbitrary. The worker must have time, in a working-day, to rest, eat, procreate and so on, so as to reproduce that labour-power. So, if the capitalist attempted to extend the working-day beyond 12 hours, the value of labour-power itself may rise, so that wages had to rise, and the amount of surplus value then fall. 

“It is immediately apparent that Ramsay is not clear on the point, since he once again advances against the determination of value by labour-time the otherwise “inexplicable” phenomenon that the rates of profit are equal for capitals which exploit different masses of labour-power.” (p 330) 

In other words, Ramsay recognises the existence of the average rate of profit, and seeks a solution to the problem of surplus value within it. Where Ricardo sought to equate prices of production to exchange-value, and the rate of profit to the rate of surplus value, Ramsay is led to the conclusion that capital, as well as labour creates value. He says, 

““The use of fixed capital modifies to a considerable extent the principle that value depends upon quantity of labour. For some commodities on which the same quantity of labour has been expended, require very different periods before they are fit for consumption. But as during this time the capital brings no return, in order that the employment in question should not be less lucrative than others in which the product is sooner ready for use, it is necessary that the commodity, when at last brought to market, should be increased in value by all the amount of the profit withheld. This shews […] how capital may regulate value independently of labour” (op. cit., p. 43).” (p 330-1) 

However, what this actually shows is only that capital, via the formulation of an average rate of profit, regulates the average price, or price of production, of each type of commodity. It simply shows that, under capitalism, commodities do not exchange according to their values, not that those values cease to exist, or are no longer determined by labour-time. And, its surprising that Ramsay does not see this, because he does recognise that what is involved is not an increase or diminution in the total amount of surplus value, but only its redistribution, in order to effect an average rate of profit.

(NB. In actual fact, as Marx explains in Capital III, this is not entirely true. If the price of production of wage goods is higher than their exchange-value, then wages will be higher where market prices of wage goods are determined by the price of production. Necessarily, as wages are then higher – a greater proportion of the working-day is then necessary labour and a smaller proportion surplus labour – the amount of surplus-value will be lower. Moreover, because the total new value created by labour will not itself be changed, the total value of output will remain unchanged. The value of constant capital then remains the same, but the value of the variable capital is higher. So, not only would a smaller mass of surplus value be produced, causing the rate of profit to be lower, but because, c + v will be higher, this will also cause the rate of profit to be lower. The opposite would be true if the price of production of wage goods was lower than their exchange-value.) 

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