Monday, 7 October 2019

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 23 - Part 21

[5. Elements of Sismondism in Cherbuliez. On the Organic Composition of Capital Fixed and Circulating Capital] 

Cherbuliez work contains a “remarkable aamalgam of Sismondist and Ricardian contradictory views.” (p 381) 

Marx quotes his comments that Marx describes as Sismondian. 

““The hypothesis […] that an invariable ratio exists between the different elements of capital is not substantiated at any stage of the development of society. The relationship is essentially variable and for two reasons: a)the division of labour, and b) the replacement of human labour by natural agents. These two factors tend to reduce the ratio of the means of subsistence to the other two elements of capital” (op. cit., pp. 61-62). 

In this situation, “the increase in productive capital does not necessarily lead to an increase in the amount of means of subsistence intended to constitute the price of labour; it can be accompanied—at least for a time—by an absolute diminution of this element of capital, and consequently by a reduction in the price of labour” (loc. cit., p. 63).” (p 381-2) 

In other words, Cherbuliez says there is no invariable relation between variable-capital (means of subsistence) and constant capitalfixed or circulating (means of production) – because changes in productivity, resulting from the use of machinery, etc., continually alter that relation. Its clear that Cherbuliez views this relation – the organic composition of capital – in the same way that Marx does, as being technologically determined. In other words, with any given state of technology, there is a relation between the physical mass of means of production and the physical mass of labour required to process it. If the mass of raw material to be processed rises, proportionally, more labour must be employed. Only where technology changes does any sizeable change in this technical composition of capital arise, causing a change in the organic composition

However, Marx notes, 

“the effect on the wage level is the only aspect considered by Cherbuliez. This problem does not arise at all in an investigation where labour is always supposed to be paid at its value and the fluctuations of the market price of labour above or below that point (the value [of labour]) are not taken into consideration.” (p 382) 

In other words, Cherbuliez confuses here a fall in wages, as a consequence of labour being replaced by machines, causing a relative surplus population, and a fall in the value of labour-power itself. Because Cherbuliez never presents his argument in terms of an equal exchange of values, this concept of wages as merely the phenomenal form of the value of labour-power never arises for him. He sees only the movement of wages as a market price around that value, and his Sismondist view leads him to see that movement as one way, driving wages down, rather like the Lassallean Iron Law of Wages. That is illustrated in his further comment, 

““The producer who wishes to introduce a new division of labour in his enterprise or to exploit some natural force, will not wait until he has accumulated sufficient capital to be able to employ in this new way all the workers he needed previously. In the case of division of labour, he will perhaps be satisfied to produce with five workers what he previously produced with ten. In the case of the exploitation of a natural force, he will perhaps use only one machine and two workers. The means of subsistence will, in consequence, be reduced to 1,500 in the first case and to 600 in the second. But since the number of workers remains the same, their corn petition will soon force the price of labour below its original level” (loc. cit., pp. 63-64).” (p 382) 

In fact, the rise in social productivity usually accompanies an accumulation of capital, and expansion of output. The degree to which this occurs varies according to the particular phase of the long wave cycle. In the latter part of the crisis phase, new labour-saving technologies are introduced, so that accumulation proceeds on the basis of intensive accumulation. New types of machine and technology replace existing machines, rather than supplementing them. That continues through the stagnation phase of the cycle, until its later stages, where, in addition to these new machines replacing older machines, additional machines begin to be accumulated. This starts a period where accumulation becomes more extensive, and additional labour is thereby employed alongside these additional machines. The mass of labour thereby begins to grow more rapidly, in absolute terms, but still more slowly, relatively, than it would have done on the basis of the previous technology. Productivity continues to rise, therefore, but at a slower pace than it did during the period of intensive accumulation. 

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