Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 23 - Part 22

Cherbuliez continues, 

““This is one of the most astonishing results of the law of appropriation. The absolute increase in wealth, that is, in the products of labour, does not give rise to a proportional increase and may lead to a diminution in the means of subsistence for the workers, in the portion they receive of all kinds of products” (p. 64). “The factors determining the price of labour” [in this context it is always a question only of the market price of labour] “are the absolute amount of productive capital and the ratio between the different elements of capital, two social facts on which the will of the workers can exercise no influence” (p. 64). “Nearly all the odds are against the worker” (loc. Cit.).” (p 382) 

Once again, this reflects Chrbuliez' Sismondist outlook. Missing from this view is any concept that the accumulation of capital, as well as displacing labour, at times, also leads, at other times, and in general, to an expansion of output, and of the workforce; missing is also any concept that, alongside the rise in social productivity, goes a cheapening both of means of production and means of subsistence, so that, even as the value of labour-power, and nominal wages, fall, the real wage/standard of living, of the working-class, rises. Because Cherbuliez does not present his analysis on the basis of an exchange of equal values, there is no concept, here, that wages/value of labour-power are objectively determinable, and so he sees wages only in terms of a fluctuating market price, which always fluctuates in a downward trajectory, as a result of labour being progressively displaced by machines. 

Marx sets out the actual basis of the ratio between the variable-capital and constant capital, freed from this one-sided catastrophist view. He restates the argument originally set out in Capital I that the organic composition is based upon the technical composition

First: By the organic composition of productive capital. By this we mean the technological composition. With a given productivity of labour, which can be taken as constant so long as no change occurs, the amount of raw material and means of labour, that is, the amount of constant capital—in terms of its material elements—which corresponds to a definite quantity of living labour (paid or unpaid), that is, to the material elements of variable capital, is determined in every sphere of production.” (p 382) 

The importance of this has been set out previously, because it is this technical composition, and changes in it, that are the driving force behind Marx's Law of The Tendency For The Rate of Profit To Fall. As productivity rises, a greater quantity of material is processed, by a given mass of labour. So, even as the unit value of material falls, it is offset by the greater mass of material processed. The share of total output value accounted for by material, therefore, rises, relative to the proportion accounted for by labour (and wear and tear of fixed capital). So, as the mass of surplus value remains constant, or even rises, the capital laid out as material rises even more, so that the rate of profit falls. 

“If the proportion of the materialised labour to the living labour employed is small, then the portion of the product that represents living labour will be large regardless of how this portion is divided between capitalist and worker. If the reverse is the case, the portion will be small. With a given rate of exploitation of labour, the surplus labour too will be large in the former case and small in the latter. This can only change as a result of a change in the mode of production which alters the technological relationship between the two parts of capital.” (p 382-3) 

In other words, suppose, in industry A, 100 kilos of material is processed by 10 workers, working a 10 hour day. So, 100 kilos is processed by 100 hours of labour. It may be that 80 hours of this labour is necessary labour, and reproduces wages, with 20 hours constituting surplus value. Or, it may be that only 20 hours represents necessary labour, and 80 hours is surplus value. Either way, the technical composition of the capital is determined by the quantity of labour required to process this 100 kilos of material. Similarly, in industry B, 100 kilos of material may be processed by 1 worker working a 10 hour day. Once again, whether this 10 hours divides 8:2 or 2:8, the actual technical relation of material to labour is 100:10 or 10:1, as opposed to 1:1 in industry A. 

If we assume a particular rate of surplus value, say 4:1, then, in industry A, the ratio of material to wages is 10:8, whereas, in industry B, it is 100:8. 

“Even in this case, the absolute amount of living labour employed by the capital which uses a greater proportion of constant capital may be equal or even larger if capitals of different size are compared. But it must be smaller relatively. For capitals of the same size, or calculated in proportion to the total capital—100 for example—it must be smaller both relatively and absolutely. All changes arising from the development (not the decline) of the productive power of labour, reduce that part of the product which represents living labour, that is, they reduce variable capital. Regarding capital invested in different branches of production, one can say [that these changes] reduce the variable capital absolutely in those branches which have reached a higher level of production, since wages are assumed to be equal.” (p 383) 

If industry A processes 1,000 kilos of material, it will employ 100 workers. If industry B processes 100,000 kilos of material, it will employ 1,000 workers. So, in absolute terms, industry B will employ ten times as much labour as industry A. But, it will employ only a tenth of the labour employed by A, relatively. It only employs more labour absolutely because the scale of production in B is 100 times that in A. In general, the rise in productivity that brings about this rise in the technical composition of capital goes hand in hand with the accumulation of capital, and this increase in the scale of production, so that, even as the labour employed falls relatively, the labour employed, in absolute terms, increases. 

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