Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Addenda - Part 42

To the extent all capitalists utilise their own capital, all of the surplus value they produce takes the form of profit. A direct producer produces commodities only in order to exchange them for other commodities required for their own consumption – in other words, it is really an exchange of products/use values, driven by a social division of labour. They produce only to consume, even if what they produce they exchange for the actual use values they consume. They do not produce to create obtain exchange-value, or profit, or to accumulate capital. Thy are only concerned to ensure that they sell the commodities they produce at their value, as Marx describes in Capital III, Chapter 10, i.e. at a price that reproduces the value of their consumed means of production, plus the value added by their labour in production. Their direct production is characterised precisely by this fact that it is production geared to their own consumption needs, not for profit. 

But, the capitalist does not produce to meet their own consumption needs, either directly or indirectly, in the way the individual direct producer does. The capitalist produces only in order to produce profit, and their aim is to produce as much profit as their capital allows. In other words, to maximise their annual rate of profit. As Marx describes in Capital III, the individual direct producer of cloth might spend £10 on materials, and create £10 of new value by their own labour, with £5 of that required to reproduce the value of their own labour-power. They produce cloth with an exchange-value of £20. The surplus value of £5 they produce represents the “rate of profit” of 33.33%. An equivalent producer of furniture might spend £20 on means of production, and similarly create £10 of new value, and the same £5 of surplus value. But, this represents a 20% rate of profit. The furniture producer does not become a cloth producer, because they do not engage in production to produce profit, but only to be able to consume. 

That is not the case with the capitalist. The capitalist, confronted with the possibility of making 20% profit from furniture production, or 33.33% from cloth production, chooses the latter. As a result, cloth production rises, relative to demand, the market price of cloth falls below its exchange value, and the rate of profit in that sphere falls along with it. By this process, an average rate of profit is established, and, under capitalism, commodities no longer sell at their exchange values, but at their price of production. The profit any capital obtains is then no longer determined by the surplus value it produces, but by the average rate of profit. 

Already, therefore, the source of profit in surplus value, as well as the source of surplus value, is obscured. It now appears that profit is simply a product of capital, and the amount of profit is thereby a function of the amount of capital. Commodity fetishism arises, because what is actually a relation between human beings becomes seen as a relation between things – commodities. It is a relation between equal amounts of labour. 

Capital is also a social relation, but, unlike commodity fetishism, which is based on an exchange of equals, this social relation is based on exploitation. It is commodity fetishism raised to a higher power. As an exchange of commodities – wages for labour-power – it is still an exchange of equals, but, in terms of the exchange of labour with capital it is unequal. The worker obtains wages of £10 equal to the value of their labour-power, but is only paid these wages if they provide capital with labour itself to a greater value than £10. In other words, if £10 is equal to 5 hours of labour, which is the value of labour-power, the value required to reproduce labour-power for a day, the worker is employed, only on condition that they provide, say, 10 hours of labour. The surplus value of £10 does not arise, because of an unequal exchange of commodities – wages for labour-power – but because, having exchanged commodities, the capitalist utilises the labour-power they have bought for 10 hours, creating, thereby £20 of new value. It is this exploitation of labour in the labour process that creates the surplus value, not an unequal exchange of wages for labour-power. 

In the same way that commodity fetishism means that it is the commodity that appears to be the source of value (rather than the labour required to produce it), so this fetishism raised to a higher power now means that it appears that it is capital that is the source of profit, and not the surplus value produced by labour. If profit is then the natural fruit of capital, then, if profit is the motive for capitalist production, it becomes possible for capital itself to be sold as a commodity, and for it to be bought by anyone wishing to engage in capitalist production. 

“On this basis, money, for example, is, as such, capital because the conditions of production in themselves confront labour in an alienated form, they confront it as someone else’s property and thus dominate it. Then capital can also be sold as a commodity which has this attribute, that is, it can be sold as capital, as is the case when capital is loaned at interest.” (p 492) 

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