Sunday, 19 January 2020

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Addenda - Part 40

Money that buys commodities as means of production and instruments of labour, for the purposes of producing commodities, is not of itself money-capital. A peasant producer, for example, uses money to buy seeds, fertiliser, tools, etc., all used to produce commodities which they sell in the market. But, they have only used money (the general commodity) to exchange for other commodities required for their production. This is just an exchange of commodities at their values. Even if the peasant uses money to buy labour that is the case. Suppose the peasant's plough is broken, and they buy the labour of a carpenter or blacksmith to fix it, but they give those craftsmen a value in money equal to the the labour-time they provide. Or, they might require help in getting in their crops, and pay their neighbour, who provides them with labour to bring in the harvest. If the peasant only undertakes sufficient labour to reproduce the value of their labour-power, no surplus value is produced. But, even if they undertake surplus labour, and thereby create a surplus value, this is not surplus value in the capitalist sense. The capitalist obtains surplus value, because they get something for nothing, a quantity of unpaid labour. The surplus value of the peasant is not something for nothing, but something bought with their own surplus labour. 

Money only acts as money-capital where it buys commodities for use in production in specific historically determined social conditions. 

“The process only becomes a capitalist process, and money is converted into capital only: 1) if commodity production, i.e., the production of products in the form of commodities, becomes the general mode of production; 2) if the commodity (money) is exchanged against labour-power (that is, actually against labour) as a commodity, and consequently if labour is wage-labour; 3) this is the case however only when the objective conditions, that is (considering the production process as a whole), the products, confront labour as independent forces, not as the property of labour but as the property of someone else, and thus in the form of capital.” (p p 490-1) 

The example of the peasant producer who buys the labour of their neighbour, for a specific purpose, and period, is useful for understanding the process of dissolution of feudal production, and genesis of capitalist production. It is described, in detail, by Lenin, in “The Development of Capitalism In Russia”, where he describes the process of the differentiation of the peasantry

Marx says, 

“This condition of capitalist production is its invariable result. It is its antecedent posited by itself. Capitalist production is antecedent to itself and is therefore posited with its conditions as soon as it has evolved and functions in circumstances appropriate to it.” (p 491) 

It is another way of asking, “What comes first the chicken or the egg?”, which everyone who understands evolution realises is a stupid question. The answer is the egg, but it is the egg of something which is not itself a chicken. 

The peasant who sells labour to their neighbour, for a few days, each year, at harvest time, is not a wage labourer. They are an independent peasant producer in their own right. When they sell labour to their neighbour that is exactly what they sell – a quantity of labour, and they get an equal amount of value in money, in exchange for it. It is no different than had they undertaken the same amount of labour producing a plough, which they then sell at its value. To put it another way, their neighbour could have paid them, by performing an equal amount of labour for them. To be a wage labourer, what they must sell is not a quantity of labour, but their labour-power itself as a commodity, and that only arises under specific social conditions. In short, those condition are that they no longer own their own means of production, or as Lenin shows, that the means of production they own are no longer sufficient to ensure their reproduction without undertaking additional wage labour. To reproduce their labour-power, they must now have access to the means of production that are the property of someone else. They can only achieve that by selling their labour-power to this third party, and in the process agreeing to provide unpaid labour to them. 

It may be that the neighbour who sells labour for a few days each year is able to do so, because their peasant farm is small, so that they are able to collect in their harvest in a shorter time. They then use this extra time to sell labour to their neighbour. The money they obtain supplements their consumption, and can be used to pay money rents and taxes. In fact, there are a number of possibilities here. The peasant farmer they sell their labour to may have a larger farm, and gradually, over a number of years, as the quantity of commodities they send to market increases, the more their revenues increase, and as they do so they are able to buy more horses to pull ploughs etc. Their instruments of labour increase, and, along with it, the productivity of their labour rises. They may increase their revenues to a level where, instead of buying the labour of their neighbour, for a few days, they are able to employ actual wage labour, where it is available. By this process, their means of production become transformed into capital. 

Alternatively, it could be that the reason that the neighbour has time they can sell is that their farm is more fertile, it may be possible to gather in the crop faster, or maybe they already own horses, better equipment that enables them to gather in their harvest. In that case, the additional money they obtain from selling their spare labour may be accumulated as potential money-capital. They may use it to buy or rent additional land etc. 

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