Thursday, 30 April 2020

Relative Surplus Value - Part 4 of 5

The American economist Carey, believed that it was these different levels of productivity that accounted for different levels of wages, and this same misconception is presented today, that it is rising productivity that leads to higher wages. In fact, the opposite is the case. It is higher wages, which squeeze profits, which lead to capital engaging in technological innovation to develop new machines so as to replace labour, which raises productivity. Higher levels of productivity certainly means that necessary labour-time is reduced, but there is no reason why the expanded surplus labour-time should be used to raise wages/living standards, because the whole purpose of capital in engaging in such activity is to increase profits. Living standards, for some, will undoubtedly rise as a result of the increased productivity, especially for the reasons set out by Marx in the quote on the Civilising Mission, because released capital and labour will go to produce a wider range of products, but, for workers, they will not rise proportionate to the rise in productivity, and so consequently profits will rise by a larger proportion. 

What is true is that it is these increases in productivity that bring about increases in relative surplus value, that also facilitate rises in living standards. But, it is rising wages, resulting from a relative shortage of labour, i.e. an overproduction of capital, that leads to capital engaging in technological innovation to replace labour that leads to the rising productivity to begin with. Moreover, the rising productivity leads to falling rather than rising wages. It does so for two reasons. Firstly, rising productivity, by creating a relative surplus population, leads to rising unemployment, and so competition between workers drives down the wages that had previously been driven up, as a result of the shortage of labour. Secondly, rising productivity, reduces the value of wage goods, and thereby reduces the value of labour-power. Wages are the phenomenal form of the value of labour-power, and so as the value of labour-power falls, so wages fall. The consequence is that relative surplus value rises

Marx makes the point that, even as wages fall, living standards for those workers actually in employment can, and usually do rise. That is because the value of wage goods falls by more than wages. If 6 hours of labour is required to produce 100 units of necessary wage goods, if these 100 units can now be produced in 3 hours, wages may fall to 4 hours of labour, but this 4 hours of wages will still buy a third more wage goods (133 units) than previously were bought by 6 hours. Consequently, even though the living standard of the employed worker will have risen, they will be producing 2 hours more relative surplus value for their employer. 

This form of relative surplus value is then produced by increasing productivity in the production of wage goods, and unlike the form of relative surplus value discussed previously, it does not disappear, when all producers use the same technology, and obtain the same levels of productivity. On the contrary, because productivity in the production of wage goods, generally, is raised, thereby reducing the market value of these commodities, it brings about a more widespread reduction in the value of labour-power, and consequent rise in relative surplus value. 

The most obvious manifestation of this is where productivity rises in the production of wage goods directly. If productivity in the production of food rises, food becomes cheaper, and so workers need to spend less of each working-day producing the value required to buy the food required to reproduce their labour-power. Money wages can, thereby fall, whilst workers are able to buy the same quantity of food. As money wages fall, money profits rise, and so relative surplus value, and the rate of surplus value rises. The same effect is achieved if workers have access to cheaper food, as happened with the repeal of the Corn Laws, which meant that cheaper European corn was imported to Britain, pushing down prices of bread, flour and so on. Similarly, if other costs and frictions on trade are removed, this has the same effect. By removing borders inside the EU, for example, goods can move more freely, and so the prices of wage goods are reduced, thereby reducing the value of labour-power, and raising the mass and rate of surplus value.  Workers do not like to accept lower money wages, even if they go with actual rises living standard.  Oligopolies also do not like falling money prices.  So, at the start of the 20th century, central banks were established to try to ensure that money prices did not fall, and that falling real wages were hidden by rising money wages.  They did this by devaluing money tokens by a greater degree than the fall in the value of commodities, brought about by rising productivity.

But, this process also works indirectly. A tractor is not consumed by workers, other than productively if they are agricultural labourers. But, a tractor is used to produce food, and the value of wear and tear of the tractor enters into the value of the food consumed by the worker. If productivity in tractor production rises, so that the value of tractors falls, the value of wear and tear of tractors entering into the value of food consumed by workers also falls, and so the value of the food falls. Similarly, steel is used in the production of tractors. If productivity in steel production rises, the value of steel falls, and so the value of tractors falls, and so the value of wear and tear of tractors in food production falls, and so on. The more remote from the actual production of the particular wage goods, the smaller the impact of any rise in productivity will have in reducing those values, and thereby increasing relative surplus value.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

What The Friends of the People Are, Part I - Part 5 of 31

Once again, here, we see Marx's materialist method, in defining social development, and its parallels with the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection. If we examine the primitive commune, each of its members are treated equally. But, for the reasons Marx describes in The Critique of the Gotha Programme, referring to the first stage of communism, this equal treatment necessarily results in inequality, because not all humans are equal; some are stronger, some faster, some more intelligent. Equal treatment means that the natural advantages of the stronger, faster, fitter or more intelligent will result in inequality. However “desirable” it may have been, subjectively and morally, for everyone to be equal, and enjoy a high standard of living, objectively it was not possible, and society could not develop in that way. 

As Engels describes in “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State”, the commune dissolves precisely because this equal treatment results in inequality. The stronger, fitter, faster and more intelligent members become increasingly differentiated from the rest. Some may become warrior chiefs, others astronomers/astrologers/priests and healers. Already, in these roles, a division of labour enables them to abstain from general labour, thereby, establishing the principle that the majority must labour in order that some may not. 

The more beneficial position of some, within the commune, means that they see the potential to improve their position by turning some of their instruments of labour into private property, which can be passed down through their family, and this creates the conditions for the establishment of the family unit, as distinct from the commune. Once this process is underway, it means that these families that enjoy these privileged positions, can enhance them. As soon as labour productivity rises to a level where more can be produced by an individual in a day than is required for their own reproduction, it means their surplus product can be appropriated by someone else. It may take the form of becoming a servant in someone else's household, but logically leads to the development of slavery as a mode of production

As Engels describes in Anti-Duhring, this process of the development of slavery can be explained solely by resort to material conditions, and economic self-interest. Slavery cannot be explained in terms of subjective sociology, morality or force. A slave cannot be brought into existence purely by force, because, unless labour productivity is sufficiently developed, the slave can produce no surplus product. 

Moreover, as Marx comments, in his description of the scientific honesty of Ricardo, not only does this process have nothing to do with morality or subjective “desirability”, rather than being determined by objectively determinable natural laws, arising from material reality, but also, viewed in these terms, this very inequality that is a function of the process, which leads to wealth and power being concentrated in the hands of an elite few, is itself “desirable”, because it is by this means, and only by this means, that science and the forces of production are developed to the stage whereby that inequality can itself be ended by the “historic reversal”, which puts the means of production back into the hands of the associated producers themselves

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Relative Surplus Value - Part 3 of 5

Robinson is able to produce relative surplus value, because he is able to raise the productivity of his labour, reducing the amount of necessary labour he performs. If he produces certain things on a larger scale he obtains economies of scale, for example the area of a stock pen increases proportionally more than its circumference, and so proportionally more animals can be enclosed in it than the increase in his labour required to enclose it. The more he can spend time on certain types of labour, the more adept he becomes at them, so that his productivity naturally increases. He may even be able to devote entire days to a certain type of production, consuming from his stocks, and be able, thereby, to benefit from a division of his own labour. But, if he is joined by Man Friday, the two together can engage in the type of labour in which each has some more greater skill, so that their overall production increases accordingly, and the necessary labour of each is, thereby, reduced, leaving a greater amount and ratio of surplus labour. 

That surplus labour can be increased in this way, via the production of relative surplus value, does not mean that it will be. As Marx sets out, the fact that necessary labour amounts to only, say 12, hours a week, or 1 day a week, does not explain why labourers would, then, work for 6 days a week, accepting only the product of 1 day's labour as wages, and handing over the product of the other 5 day's labour as profit to a capitalist. This latter condition can only be explained by the existence of certain other material conditions, historically determined social conditions, in which the capitalist has a monopoly ownership of the means of production, and is able to insist that, in order to be able to use them, the labourer must provide the capitalist with 5 day's labour for free. 

In the same way, under feudalism, the rank and status of the feudal lord, the church and state, supported by a regime of rituals, customs and beliefs ensures that the serf must hand over an amount of their labour, or product of their labour, for free as feudal rent. Under capitalism, it is the monopoly ownership of land that ensures that the capitalist farmer can only use the land, in order to make profits, if they hand over any surplus profits, i.e. profit above the average profit, to the landowner as capitalist rent, having themselves appropriated surplus value as profit, from the labour of their workers. It is similarly, the monopoly ownership of money-capital that enables the money-lending capitalist to appropriate surplus value in the form of interest, by lending money. The capacity for surplus value is not sufficient to ensure that it is produced, and nor does it determine its form. It is the historically determined social relations that ensure that surplus value is produced, and it is those same social relations that determine the form the surplus value assumes. As Marx puts it, each mode of production is determined by the specific means by which the surplus labour/value is pumped out of the labourer. 

Under feudalism, necessary labour remains at a more or less constant level for centuries. The basic requirements of the peasant producer remain fairly fixed, and the methods of production also remain relatively unchanged, so that the labour-time required for their production remains unchanged. It is this that Marx describes as leading to the idiocy of rural life. It is in the towns that capitalism begins, as larger populations, in concentrated areas, leads to the development of markets for certain industrial products that can now be produced on a larger scale. This larger scale of production makes capitalist production possible. Merchants and money-lending capitalists are able to buy up the means of production of independent artisans, and to turn these artisans into wage workers. They may initially continue to work as though they were individual handicraft producers, as part of the Putting Out System, being provided with materials by the merchant etc., or else, they may be brought together, with other ruined handicraft producers, in a handicraft workshop owned by a capitalist. Already, this enables surplus value to be pumped from these producers, and this collective production, enables a rudimentary division of labour, and economies of scale to be enjoyed. 

This means that the individual value of the output of these capitalist workshops is lower than the market value of these commodities produced by other independent handicraft producers. The capitalist producers, thereby, undercut the remaining handicraft producers. They sell their output in the expanding market of the towns. Some of this production is exchanged for other industrial commodities, produced by other capitalist producers, some is exchanged for agricultural products in the hands of peasants as well as landlords. The capitalist producers obtain relative surplus value, because the labour of their workers is more productive than the labour of the independent handicraft producers. It is as though this labour is complex labour, i.e. as though it produces more value in an hour than does an hour of simple labour. That means that each worker has to work fewer hours per day, creating the value required to reproduce their labour-power, and so a greater quantity of relative surplus value is, thereby, produced. This type of relative surplus value is produced, whenever any particular capitalist producer introduces some new machine or technique that enhances the productivity of the labour they employ, relative to the other labour employed in the industry. 

So, for example, suppose in the yarn industry an hour's labour, on average produces 10 kilos of yarn, and the market value of this yarn is £20. Now, one producer introduces a machine, which means that its workers now produce 15 kilos of yarn in an hour. But, they continue to sell this yarn at its market value, as determined by the average for the industry. So, they sell this yarn for £30. If we assume that, the worker required £10 to reproduce their labour-power, equal to 0.5 hours of labour, the workers in the latter firm, produce this £10, in just a third of an hour, or 20 minutes. Their necessary labour time has fallen. That means they produce relative surplus value equal to 40 minutes, as a result of this increase in their productivity. However, if all firms in the industry adopt this new machine, the market value of yarn will fall, because it takes less time to produce. As a consequence, this relative surplus value would disappear. 

This same kind of relative surplus value also exists in relation to the different levels of productivity of labour in different countries. If Indian handicraft producers of cotton cloth produced 100 metres in ten hours, but British factory textile labour produced 1,000 meres in ten hours, it is as though the British labour was complex labour. On the global market, cloth is sold at its market value. So, if we assume that market value is equal to the price of the Indian cloth, and assuming 1 hour of labour is equal to £1, then it sells at £0.10 per metre. In ten hours, the Indian producer obtains £10. The British producer, however, obtains £100 for the same 10 hours of labour. It is as though the British worker reproduced their labour-power in a tenth of the time that it required for the Indian worker to reproduce their labour-power. Even though the wage of the British worker might be double, or treble the wages of the Indian worker, the British worker would still produce much more surplus value than the Indian worker. As Marx describes, the rate of exploitation of the British worker is much greater than that of the Indian worker, despite the higher wages of the British worker. This is why all of the Mercantilist theories put forward by various “anti-imperialists”, about “super-exploitation”, “unequal exchange”, and so on, are reactionary bunkum.

Monday, 27 April 2020

What The Friends of the People Are, Part I - Part 4 of 31

This subjectivist conception of history can be found amongst some “Marxists” who adopt a similar moralistic approach to society and politics. The so called Third Camp arose on precisely this kind of moralistic basis (See, for example Trotsky "Petty-Bourgeois Moralists and the Proletarian Party"). They found that the reality of the deformed workers' state, in Russia, conflicted with their petite-bourgeois morality, particularly following the Stalin-Hitler Pact  (See Trotsky - The USSR in War). But, their former Marxist principles meant they were compelled to defend a workers' state (even a deformed one) against imperialism. The means to reconcile this contradiction was easy for a subjectivist – simply reclassify the USSR as not a workers' state! And, as with the Narodniks, that meant, also, selecting the data to justify that reclassification, accordingly, as well as then bowdlerising Marxist teachings to justify their changed positions, as well as their subsequent zigzags, as they found themselves tossed on the sea of events, untethered from the anchor of Marxist objectivity, grounded in materialism. 

Marx spoke about his failure to explain to Proudhon the actual basis of dialectics, in the time they spent together in France. 

“For him, M. Proudhon, every economic category has two sides – one good, the other bad. He looks upon these categories as the petty bourgeois looks upon the great men of history: Napoleon was a great man; he did a lot of good; he also did a lot of harm. 

The good side and the bad side, the advantages and drawbacks, taken together form for M. Proudhon the contradiction in every economic category. 

The problem to be solved: to keep the good side, while eliminating the bad.” 

Proudhon's version of the dialectic was precisely this moralistic approach, to see every phenomenon as having a good aspect and a bad aspect (thereby innately moralistic, as opposed to the dichotomy being defined as reactionary or progressive, reflecting the material reality in which there is constant change, and the progressive element represents the forward movement), and that the task was, thereby, to simply eradicate the bad aspects of every social phenomenon. 

Mikhailovsky repeats exactly this Proudhonist approach. 

“(“Having accepted something as desirable or undesirable, the sociologist must discover the conditions under which the desirable can be realised, or the undesirable eliminated”—“under which such and such ideals can be realised”—this same Mr. Mikhailovsky reasons.) What is more, there can be no talk even of development, but only of various deviations from the “desirable,” of “defects” that have occurred in history as a result . . . as a result of the fact that people were not clever enough, were unable properly to understand what human nature demands, were unable to discover the conditions for the realisation of such a rational system.” (p 137) 

It might be considered “desirable” that, throughout Man's history, each person enjoyed liberty and equality, and a high standard of living, but what does this “desirability” have to do with the actual development of society and the laws that govern it? It is simply a pious wish. The reason that not every human has enjoyed a high standard of living is not a question of subjective choices, but of objective necessity. That is precisely what lies at the heart of Marx's Law of Value. The determinant for human beings enjoying a high standard of living is labour productivity. Beyond a fairly basic level, whereby that productivity is a function of land fertility, climate etc., it depends on the development of the instruments of labour, which, in turn, is a function of the development of science and technology. It depends upon this development of science not just to produce the new instruments of labour that raise productivity, but also to create the new types of products for consumption, which are the means by which the standard of living is raised. 

But, as Marx comments, it was an indication of the scientific honesty of Ricardo that he noted that this development of science is a product of society concentrating in the hands of a relatively few people the wealth that enables them to abstain from labour, so as to engage in these intellectual pursuits, or to be able to employ others with the appropriate talents to be able to do so on their behalf. 

“He wants production for the sake of production and this with good reason. To assert, as sentimental opponents of Ricardo’s did, that production as such is not the object, is to forget that production for its own sake means nothing but the development of human productive forces, in other words the development of the richness of human nature as an end in itself. To oppose the welfare of the individual to this end, as Sismondi does, is to assert that the development of the species must be arrested in order to safeguard the welfare of the individual, so that, for instance, no war may be waged in which at all events some individuals perish. Sismondi is only right as against the economists who conceal or deny this contradiction.) Apart from the barrenness of such edifying reflections, they reveal a failure to understand the fact that, although at first the development of the capacities of the human species takes place at the cost of the majority of human individuals and even classes, in the end it breaks through this contradiction and coincides with the development of the individual; the higher development of individuality is thus only achieved by a historical process during which individuals are sacrificed for the interests of the species in the human kingdom, as in the animal and plant kingdoms, always assert themselves at the cost of the interests of individuals, because these interests of the species coincide only with the interests of certain individuals, and it is this coincidence which constitutes the strength of these privileged individuals.” 

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Relative Surplus Value - Part 2 of 5

Indeed, this concept, described above by Marx, is also what led the Physiocrats to believe that only agricultural labour was productive. They were right, Marx says, to recognise that it is only when agricultural labour is sufficiently productive as to be able to overproduce, i.e. to produce a surplus product that this enables some labour to be devoted to the production of other, industrial commodities, but wrong to think that the labour then involved in this industrial production was not itself productive. The same mistake is made today, by those who now think that it is only labour involved in the production of material products that is productive, as opposed to the labour involved in the production of services, which now comprises 80% of all new value and surplus value production. 

So, once we have identified, for Robinson, what constitutes his basic requirements, given the reality of his condition, and need to be able to reproduce his labour-power, we can identify any surplus labour-time he has. This surplus labour must initially take the form of absolute surplus value. In other words, he must choose to actually engage in labour for the rest of his available working-day, beyond the time required as necessary labour. Again, here, we find the materialist basis of Marx's theory of historical materialism, as also utilised by Engels in “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”. What is it that objectively drives Robinson on to extend his working-day beyond that required purely as necessary labour? It is his precarious condition. He cannot know if tomorrow he will catch sufficient food, or if he might be caught out by severe weather, or be attacked by wild animals, and so he must be able to provide protection for himself against all these eventualities. And, Marx and Engels explain that these same considerations lead to different behaviours of human beings facing different material conditions across the globe. Humans in the climes of Northern Europe, are led to ensure that they devote labour-time to the production of adequate shelter and clothing, for example. In North America, the vast plains providing adequate supplies of food, and ability to migrate away from over-harsh weather, means that the Native Americans were not led to the need to develop settled agriculture of create permanent shelter. 

It is the need to provide first of all excess production, as stocks/savings, that leads to surplus labour being undertaken. This overproduction then means that labour-time can be used to produce other productsmeans of production. Robinson, uses some of his labour-time now to produce a fishing rod, or nets, so that he can catch more fish in the same amount of labour-time. The value of the fish now incorporates a portion of the value of his fishing rod, or nets – their wear and tear – because in order to keep catching fish on this basis, he must replace them when they wear out. A portion of his total output must now comprise a fund set aside for the physical replacement of these means of production, as well as the fund for the reproduction of his labour-power.  But, even accounting for this additional value, the actual value of the fish falls, because he now spends less labour-time in total on their production. The same applies to traps he produces to catch rabbits, and he is now able to not eat all the rabbits he catches, but keep some to breed, so that he has a constantly expanding supply of rabbits, without needing to catch them. He can do the same by catching goats, so as to obtain milk, and he can gather seeds so as to be able to grow cereals, and other crops. 

By all these means, he expands the quantity and range of means of production at his disposal, and these means of production enable him to produce all of his basic requirements in less time. In other words, even as he expands his range of basic requirements, his necessary product, the time required to produce them continually declines, even though he works no additional hours in the day. He expands his surplus product/value, not by working longer or harder (absolute surplus value), but simply by making his labour more productive, and so being able to reduce the time spent in necessary labour. He creates relative surplus value.

But, a part of his working-day, is now also involved not in producing his means of consumption, but in reproducing and replacing these means of production that have enabled him to increase the productivity of his labour. He must spend a certain time each week or month, repairing or replacing fishing nets, traps, or stock compounds and so on. And, the more he raises the productivity of his labour, by producing these additional means of production, the greater the proportion of available labour-time he has to devote to that function, rather than actual labour in producing his means of consumption, i.e. reproducing his labour-power. This is the fundamental material basis for Marx's Law of the Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall. It means that, even as Robinson's productivity continually rises, even as the amount and value of his surplus product rises, that surplus product/value forms a continuously falling share of his total output/value, because an increasing share of that output has to go simply to replace his consumed means of production, and likewise, an increasing proportion of the value of that output is comprised not of his current labour, but of the past labour, congealed labour, embodied in the means of production consumed in its production. Indeed, an increasing proportion goes into replacing not the means of production consumed in producing his means of consumption, but in replacing the means of production consumed in producing the means of production themselves. For example, the larger the stock pens he has, the more time must be devoted to cutting down wood, simply to repair fences and so on to those pens. This is why, in Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 21, Marx explains that Department I (c), means of production consumed in production of means of production grows fastest, then Department I (v + s), means of production (intermediate production) consumed in production of means of consumption, grows second fastest, and finally Department I (v + s) production of means of consumption, grows slowest.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

What The Friends of the People Are, Part I - Part 3 of 31

Lenin notes that subjective sociology and economics says “only the production of values is subject to solely economic laws, whereas distribution, they declare, depends on politics, on the nature of the influence exercised on society by the government, the intelligentsia and so forth. In what sense, then, does Marx speak of the economic law of motion of society, even referring to this law as a Naturgesetz—a law of nature? How are we to understand this, when so many of our native sociologists have covered reams of paper to show that social phenomena are particularly distinct from the phenomena of natural history, and that therefore the investigation of the former requires the employment of an absolutely distinct “subjective method in sociology.” (p 136) 

In The Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx himself points out that this view of distribution separated from production, was one adopted by Vulgar Socialism. But, it forms the basis of reformism, syndicalism, and Economism. The basis of Fabian style reformism is that capitalism can be left free to create new value and surplus value, and then, having done, so it can simply be redistributed in the direction of workers. Similarly, Economism and syndicalism eschew any understanding that distribution is determined by objective economic laws, and sees it in purely subjectivist terms of a battle of wills between workers and capitalists. They mistake superficial appearances, in relation to the distributional struggle, for the underlying material reality, which determines the eventual outcome of such struggles. 

In order to further emphasise this point, that the Law of Value, as Marx describes in his Letter to Kugelmann, is a natural law, applicable to all modes of production, and from which derives the materialist conception of history, Lenin quotes Marx's comment from the Preface of Capital

““[From] my standpoint,” says Marx, “the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history.”” (p 136) 

Lenin says that the ideas of the old political economists referred to by Mikhailovsky, did not make this distinction of “modern society” made by Marx, precisely because they did not analyse society in the same way. This is not true of all of them. Smith and Ricardo honestly analysed capitalism, and recognised something different in it from feudal society. They were advocates for the industrial bourgeoisie. Ricardo becomes concerned precisely because he sees in his own law of falling profits inevitable catastrophe, and, thereby, the prospect that capitalism may not be eternal. But, they reconcile these contradictions by retrospectively applying capitalist categories to previous modes of production, so that all means of production become capital, all the differences between wage-labour, slave labour and independent peasant labour are subsumed under the generic heading of labour, and so on. As Marx says, in Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 24, Richard Jones is demarcated from the earlier economists in that he does see the existence of different modes of production, and capitalism as only more transient form of such. 

“... they talk of society in general, they argue with the Spencers about the nature of society in general, about the aim and essence of society in general, and so forth. In their reasonings, these subjective sociologists rely on arguments such as—the aim of society is to benefit all its members, that justice, therefore, demands such and such an organisation, and that a system that is out of harmony with this ideal organisation (“Sociology must start with some utopia”—these words of Mr. Mikhailovsky’s, one of the authors of the subjective method, splendidly typify the essence of their methods) is abnormal and should be set aside.” (p 137) 

Another aspect of this, as Marx elaborates in The Poverty of Philosophy, is the use of the term human nature, as though there is some constant and eternal human nature, rather than a nature that is continually changing as a result of different material conditions existing in society. 

““The essential task of sociology,” Mr. Mikhailovsky, for instance, argues, “is to ascertain the social conditions under which any particular requirement of human nature is satisfied.” As you see, what interests this sociologist is only a society that satisfies human nature, and not at all some strange formations of society, which, moreover, may be based on a phenomenon so out of harmony with “human nature” as the enslavement of the majority by the minority. You also see that from the standpoint of this sociologist there can be no question of regarding the development of society as a process of natural history.” (p 137) 

Northern Soul Classics - Its Gotta Be A False Alarm - The Volcanoes

Friday, 24 April 2020

Friday Night Disco - I Love The Night Life - Alicia Bridges

Relative Surplus Value - Part 1 of 5

Marx notes that the basis of all surplus value is relative surplus value, because unless the labourer can produce more in a day than is required for the reproduction of their labour-power, no surplus product or surplus value is possible. Relative surplus value, is surplus value created by a reduction in necessary labour-time, i.e. the time required for the reproduction of labour-power. This reduction may arise simply because the labourer becomes more adept at the production they undertake, because they undertake production on a larger scale that brings economies of scale, because of the division of labour, or because the instruments of labour enable labour productivity to rise. Under industrial capitalism, it is the introduction of ever more complex technology that brings about the greatest rise in labour productivity, and thereby creates relative surplus value. 

If we take Marx's example of Robinson Crusoe as telling us everything we need to know about The Law of Value, value, and, in this case, the creation of relative surplus value, it can be explained like this. Robinson, must first allocate his available labour-time, so as best ensure that his labour-power can be reproduced. He has basic requirements in that regard. He must eat, he must have safe shelter, he must have clothing, and other means of staying warm. The way he allocates his labour-time, is thereby, objectively constrained so as to meet these basic requirements. He must, at least initially, hunt for those animals that require the least labour-time to provide the protein he requires, and/or, he must search out appropriate fruits, nuts, cereals and roots. As soon as he has been able to ensure that he has the food required to reproduce his labour-power, he can utilise any remaining time in other ways. 

He might, for example, use some time, finding a cave so as to have shelter; he might fashion some clothes to keep warm; he might, if he has sufficient time, construct traps, or make a fishing rod so as to be able to catch rabbits or fish more easily; or if he does not have time left over in the day for that, he may continue his other labour, producing his necessities, and storing them up, so that on another day, he can devote more time to these other activities, simply consuming the surplus food produced on previous days. 

Everything, here, tells us what we need to know about the production of relative surplus value. Firstly, relative surplus value is created by reducing the amount of necessary labour required for the reproduction of the labourer. But, first we need to address the question of what that necessary labour is. All products, and thereby commodities, can be produced using materials and methods that are not actually necessary. A producer of nails, for example, could make them out of gold, but that would be an expenditure of unnecessary labour, i.e. the labour required to produce the gold, because nails can be produced out of iron, or steel, which requires much less labour to produce than does gold. The same is true with the use value/product labour-power, and, thereby the commodity labour-power. Robinson could, for example, have sought to reproduce his labour-power, by seeking out truffles, if he had a particular liking for such delicacies. But, if he did so, the time required to acquire them, as against the nourishment obtained from them, would have almost certainly mean that he did not have enough labour-time in the day, to ensure the reproduction of his labour-power. He would starve to death in fairly short order. In other words, not only is the value of the products of his labour objectively determined by the natural laws that flow from his physical environment, and his own capacity for labour, but the way he allocates that labour is itself also constrained by these same material conditions, and the fundamental requirement that he must live. In other words, the supply of products is for him objectively determined, and at this basic level so is his demand for those products. 

This is what Marx calls the historical or cultural component of the value of labour-power. Robinson is immediately constrained to reproduce his labour-power by devoting his labour-time to the production of only those things most vital for his survival. Once he is able to raise the productivity of his labour, he can devote time to the production of other products, and these become embodied in what he considers the necessary minimum for his own reproduction, and the basis for his allocation of available labour-time. His labour-time is divided into three parts, the product of his labour forming three different funds. The first is that part of the day required for the reproduction of his own labour-power, the second, once he has been able to accumulate them, is a part of the day required to reproduce his consumed means of production, the third is any surplus labour-time left over, which can be used to either accumulate additional means of production, or else to expand his own consumption, or to save up as a fund to cover future eventualities. 

And, this is true for all labour-power. What the labourer considers a bare minimum for subsistence varies from time to time and place to place. And, not only is this a matter that workers in the 21st century would not accept, as a bare minimum, what was accepted as such by their great grandparents in the middle of the twentieth century, but, the objective needs of that labour-power itself determines that it has different requirements for its own reproduction. The industrial labourer in the 1930's, did not need to have a sufficient level of education to know how to operate a personal computer, which did not even exist at that point, for example. But, that has become an essential element for a worker in the 21st century. Moreover, because capital must continually expand the market for the commodities it produces, and because workers form the vast majority of society, capital must itself continually expand the range of use values consumed by workers. This is what Marx calls its Civilising Mission

“On the other side, the production of relative surplus value, i.e. production of surplus value based on the increase and development of the productive forces, requires the production of new consumption; requires that the consuming circle within circulation expands as did the productive circle previously. Firstly quantitative expansion of existing consumption; secondly: creation of new needs by propagating existing ones in a wide circle; thirdly: production of new needs and discovery and creation of new use values. In other words, so that the surplus labour gained does not remain a merely quantitative surplus, but rather constantly increases the circle of qualitative differences within labour (hence of surplus labour), makes it more diverse, more internally differentiated. For example, if, through a doubling of productive force, a capital of 50 can now do what a capital of 100 did before, so that a capital of 50 and the necessary labour corresponding to it become free, then, for the capital and labour which have been set free, a new, qualitatively different branch of production must be created, which satisfies and brings forth a new need. The value of the old industry is preserved by the creation of the fund for a new one in which the relation of capital and labour posits itself in a new form. Hence exploration of all of nature in order to discover new, useful qualities in things; universal exchange of the products of all alien climates and lands; new (artificial) preparation of natural objects, by which they are given new use values. The exploration of the earth in all directions, to discover new things of use as well as new useful qualities of the old; such as new qualities of them as raw materials etc.; the development, hence, of the natural sciences to their highest point; likewise the discovery, creation and satisfaction of new needs arising from society itself; the cultivation of all the qualities of the social human being, production of the same in a form as rich as possible in needs, because rich in qualities and relations -- production of this being as the most total and universal possible social product, for, in order to take gratification in a many-sided way, he must be capable of many pleasures [genussfähig], hence cultured to a high degree -- is likewise a condition of production founded on capital. This creation of new branches of production, i.e. of qualitatively new surplus time, is not merely the division of labour, but is rather the creation, separate from a given production, of labour with a new use value; the development of a constantly expanding and more comprehensive system of different kinds of labour, different kinds of production, to which a constantly expanding and constantly enriched system of needs corresponds.”

Thursday, 23 April 2020

What The Friends of the People Are, Part I - Part 2 of 31

In this work, Lenin not only continues his criticism of the Narodnik economic analysis, and the Sismondist economic theories behind it, but also moves on to attack the philosophical framework, and subjectivist sociology upon which it rests. Lenin begins the book by attacking these philosophical and sociological foundations on which Narodism was based, and does so in the context of responding to the attack on Marxism presented by Mikhailovsky. Mikhailovskyy attacked the concept of historical materialism, claiming that nowhere in his numerous writings had Marx set out “his materialist conception of history”, in the way, for example, Darwin had set down his theory of evolution on the basis of natural selection. 

Marx had brought together masses of data, and the ideas of “theoreticians of economic science long forgotten or unknown to anybody today”, and presented that data and analysis with a “combination of logical force with erudition”. In this, Mikhailovsky says there is a real comparison with Darwin, but if, like Darwin, Marx had created some new theory explaining this development or social evolution, “where is the appropriate work by Marx? It does not exist. And not only does no such work by Marx exist, but there is none to be found in all Marxist literature, despite its voluminous and extensive character.”” (p 134) 

Lenin says this is typical of the lack of understanding of Marx's work, and cites the epigraph chosen by Kautsky for his book on Marx's economic teaching, which concludes, “We would like to be exalted less, but read more diligently!” (Note, p 134) A similar comment could be made today, especially of those many religious devotees of Marx, on the Internet, who are quick with a dogmatic assertion, but appear to be lacking in any extensive reading of Marx, himself, and even less understanding of what he says. 

Mikhailovsky's claim that Marx provided no new theory explaining social development is disproved by simply reading Capital, Lenin says. But, Mikhailovsky's current view was also contradicted by what he had, himself, previously written. In 1877, Mikhailovsky had written, 

“...It is the ultimate aim of this work, to lay bare the law of development (in the original: das oekonomische Bewegungsgesetz—the economic law of motion) of modern society, Karl Marx says in reference to his Capital, and he adheres strictly to this programme.” (p 135) 

Lenin focuses on Marx's reference to modern society in the above quote, to emphasise that Marx was only investigating the application of his law in relation to the development of capitalism. But, Lenin's argument is itself a bit restrictive in doing so. Marx, in analysing the development of capitalism necessarily examines, or at least describes, the conditions out of which that development arises, just as, in analysing the continued development of capital, and its concentration and centralisation, he is drawn to conclusions about the dissolution of private capital, still within the confines of the capitalist system, and its replacement by socialised capital, which constitutes a transitional form of property upon which must also arise new social formations. 

Marx, for example, analyses precapitalist forms of rent, and their development towards Money Rent, which is the form it assumes before being dissolved by the development of capitalist rent. Moreover, most of Marx's analysis of value and exchange-value is undertaken on the assumption that commodities exchange at their values, but that condition only exists in precapitalist modes of production. Marx makes the assumption, in Capital I and II, mostly as a simplifying assumption, so as to facilitate the presentation of his theory in relation to the commodity, money and capital, but this understanding of the basis of commodity exchange by individual, independent commodity producers is itself basic to understanding how this necessarily leads to the development of capital itself, as a consequence of competition (a point that Lenin had brought out in On The So Called Market Question, and to understanding the process by which competition leads to the development of an average annual rate of profit, and prices of production. 

But, the thrust of Lenin's argument is correct. Capital is about applying the theory to a specific manifestation of the process of social development, i.e. the development of capitalism. A wider presentation of the theory is set out in “The Communist Manifesto”. A clear statement of it is set out in Engels Letter to Bloch. A more extensive application of it is provided in Engels' “The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State”, as well as in “Anti-Duhring”, and in Marx's “The Poverty of Philosophy”. 

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Relative Surplus Value - Summary

  • Relative surplus value is surplus value that is created by reducing the length of the necessary working day.
  • The basis of all surplus value is relative surplus value, because unless labour productivity rises to a level whereby the labourer can produce more in a working-day than is required for the reproduction of their labour-power, no surplus product, or surplus value is possible.
  • Relative surplus value is produced by raising productivity, so that the value of the products required to reproduce labour-power is reduced.
  • This may take the form of a rise in productivity in the production of those actual products, or it may arise, because, for example, the same products can be obtained more cheaply from elsewhere, i.e. via trade. The repeal of the Corn Laws, meant that cheaper corn was imported to Britain, which meant that the value of labour-power fell, as a result of cheaper bread etc.
  • The rise in productivity may come from simply production on a larger scale, or from a greater division of labour, but the major source of relative surplus value is the introduction of machinery, and technology.
  • The introduction of such techniques, by raising productivity, reduces necessary labour, and thereby increases surplus labour, by cheapening wage goods. Even where this rise in productivity is in other spheres, such as the production of raw materials, or machines, this still reduces the price of wage goods, where these machines and raw materials are themselves consumed in the production of those wage goods.
  • There is one other way in which a rise in productivity results in the production of relative surplus value. If one firm in an industry introduces a new machine or technique, so that the labour it employs is more productive than that of other labour employed in the industry, this also results in the production of relative surplus value for this firm. It continues to sell its output at the market value, and so the greater volume of its output means that it is as though the labour it employs is complex labour, i.e. it produces more value per hour than that of other labour employed in the industry. Because, the firm's workers continue to be paid the same wage as other workers in the industry, the firm makes bigger profits, resulting from the appropriation of this relative surplus value, it is as though its workers had to work a smaller necessary working-day to reproduce their wages. This type of relative surplus value disappears when the other firms in the industry adopt the new machine or technique.
  • Relative surplus arising from the use of machinery, often goes along with absolute surplus value.
    • The use of machines leads firms to seek to extend the working-day
    • The use of machines leads to an intensification of labour, because down-time is reduced, compared to hand production, and machines can be speeded up.
    • The introduction of machines that raise productivity creates a relative surplus population so that higher wages, and shorter working-days enjoyed by workers when demand for labour-power was higher, are reversed.
  • Relative surplus value is the basis of Marx's Law of the Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall, because it is the rise in productivity that leads to increased relative surplus value, and a higher rate of surplus value, that is also reflected in an increase in the share of the value of raw materials in output compared to labour, that leads to the rise in the technical composition, and thereby organic composition of capital.
  • Relative surplus value is capital's answer to crises of overproduction of capital, caused by changes in the value composition of capital, that arise when capital expands faster than the growth of the social working-day, so that absolute surplus value cannot be expanded further, and may even contract as demand for labour causes wages to rise. A new Innovation Cycle, brings new technologies that raise productivity, and so reduce the value of labour-power, they create a relative surplus population, which means that wages are reduced etc.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

What The Friends of the People Are, Part I - Part 1 of 31

The “friends of the people” referred to are the liberal Narodniks. Narod is the Russian for people, Narodnik, therefore, meaning populist. Lenin's polemic, here, against these populists, as in the other articles covered in this series, has many lessons for us today, in relation to similar trends. It has lessons in relation to Brexit, and free movement, as well as in relation to the reactionary nature of the various “anti-imperialist”, and “anti-capitalist” movements, who, like the Narodniks, may well be moved by good intentions, but of the kind with which the road to Hell is paved. 

In the given conditions of Tsarism and autocracy, Liberals were part of the range of oppositional groups. Some of the oppositional activity took on violent revolutionary form, but, as with most such activity, undertaken by middle-class elements, it was characterised by acts of individual terrorism, rather than mass, collective, class action. The liberal Narodniks, however, advocated conciliation with the Tsarist regime, and opposed the Marxists that sought to mobilise large scale class action against it. 

Russkaya Bogatsvo (Russian Wealth) was the magazine of the liberal Narodniks such as Vorontsov, Mihhailovsky, Muzhazov, and Krivenko. In 1906, it became the organ of the Popular Socialist Party. In attacking the ideas of the liberal Narodniks, Lenin also attacked the ideas of the so called legal Marxists. His book is based on a series of lectures to Marxist circles in Samara in 1892-3. Given the police state conditions of the time, copies of the book were circulated in the form of hectographed copies. Most of these were lost, and the current work is based upon copies that came to light in 1936. However, Part II of the work has never been found. 

In this book, Lenin develops on the ideas he had previously set out, particularly in “On The So Called Market Question”, criticising the economic theories of the Narodniks, which were based on the ideas of Sismondism, which focussed on the negative social consequences of capitalist development, seeing it as somehow “unnatural”, diverging from some “natural”, or ideal path of development. It saw the Russian village commune, and the peasant economy as the basis of this natural development. This focus on some supposedly existing natural form of economy, and the depiction of capitalist development as unnatural, meant that the Narodniks repeatedly presented data that emphasised that idea. It is what Lenin defines as Economic Romanticism. The data presented by the Narodniks attempted to show that the peasants formed an essentially homogeneous group, and also that there were limits to this “unnatural” development of capitalism in Russia. 

As Marx demonstrated in Theories of Surplus Value, the ideas of Malthus and Sismondi were consonant, indeed, the former plagiarised the latter, as he plagiarised other writers. The difference being that Sismondi's ideas flowed from a moralistic concern for the workers, whereas Malthus had no such concern, and was only concerned with the interests of the landed aristocracy, and its associated parasitic layers, whose paid apologist he was. But, both result in reactionary ideas, and a catastrophist view of capitalist development. As Lenin demonstrated in “On the So Called Market Question”, this concept, put forward by Krasin, that Russian capitalism could not continue to expand, once the existing peasant production had been absorbed, without expanding into foreign markets, was wrong. We see a similar thing today, with explanations of the continued expansion of a capitalism that some claim is in its death agony, being its super exploitation of undeveloped economies. However, as Lenin points out, this does not mean that capitalist development does not necessarily expand beyond the limitations created by national borders.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Absolute Surplus Value - Part 5 of 5

In Theories of Surplus Value, Marx sets out the stages by which capital, goes about raising absolute surplus value. Firstly, where workers are not already working up to the normal working-day, capital can simply extend the length of the individual working-day. In conditions, where labour is plentiful, capital can do this without paying additional wages, and without fear that it will cause a rise in the value of labour-power. Under these conditions, surplus value rises in proportion to the rise in the length of the working-day. So, if necessary labour is 8 hours, the working-day is 10 hours, so that surplus labour is 2 hours. If the working-day rises by 2 hours, the amount of surplus value doubles, if it rises by 4 hours, it trebles, and so on. The rate of surplus value is, thereby increased, as well as the mass of surplus value. On this basis, an overworked employed population goes along with an underworked, unemployed population. 

There is a limit to this, because, at a certain point, the excess labour supply begins to be used up, both because the overworking of the workers wears them out, and because the increasing mass of surplus value causes capital to accumulate faster, and thereby increases the demand for labour. At a certain point, then, capital has to begin to pay for the additional labour. If wages simply rise at a flat rate, the rate of surplus value, then, does not rise, but the mass of surplus value does. If wages are £10 per hour, and the worker works for 8 hours, during which they create £160 of new value, surplus value is £80. If, then the working day rises to 10 hours, so that £200 of new value is created, whilst wages rise to £100, then £100 of surplus value is produced. 

At a certain point, capital must pay overtime rates for this additional labour. As Marx sets out, these overtime rates compensate for the fact that with these longer hours, the value of labour-power itself rises. But, as a consequence, they do not represent a real increase in wages, or rise in living standards, only a reflection of the fact that labour's cost of reproduction itself has increased, that labour is being worn out more quickly and so on. As a consequence, however, the rate of surplus value on this additional labour is lower than for the rest of the working-day, but that has the effect of reducing the rate of surplus value for the whole working-day itself. The rate of surplus value falls, but the mass of surplus value continues to rise. 

Finally, capital is faced with paying not just overtime rates, but also of paying higher hourly rates of pay for the whole day, because it must compete for available labour supplies. Before this point is reached, capital seeks other ways of increasing absolute surplus value. For example, particularly in newly industrialising countries, it seeks to draw in additional labour reserves from the countryside. Existing peasant producers, facing destitution and loss of their means of production, are drawn into the towns and cities as industrial labourers. Women and children are also drawn into production alongside male workers, and usually this can be done without any significant overall increase in the wage bill, because the wages of male workers that previously had to cover the whole costs of the household, and of reproducing labour-power, are now shared amongst the wages of the entire household. Initially, wives and children are brought into employment as assistants to the male head of the household, and often it is the head of household who pays the wages to their wives and children. In addition, particularly in more developed capitalist economies, capital expands the workforce by drawing in immigrants. All of these methods enable capital to increase absolute surplus value, even where the individual working day is not increased, by instead increasing the social working-day

When capital cannot expand absolute surplus value any further by either extending or intensifying the individual working-day, or else by increasing the social working-day, by increasing the number of simultaneously employed workers, it faces a crisis of overproduction of capital. If absolute surplus value cannot be increased further, then any increase in the amount of capital employed, must result in a fall in the rate of profit. Any further increase in capital, leading to further rises in the demand for labour, will cause wages themselves to rise, so that the rate of surplus value will fall, and the mass of surplus value itself will fall, profits are squeezed by these rising wages. This is the situation that Marx describes in Capital III, Chapter 15. 

“As soon as capital would, therefore, have grown in such a ratio to the labouring population that neither the absolute working-time supplied by this population, nor the relative surplus working-time, could be expanded any further (this last would not be feasible at any rate in the case when the demand for labour were so strong that there were a tendency for wages to rise); at a point, therefore, when the increased capital produced just as much, or even less, surplus-value than it did before its increase, there would be absolute over-production of capital; i.e., the increased capital C + ΔC would produce no more, or even less, profit than capital C before its expansion by ΔC. In both cases there would be a steep and sudden fall in the general rate of profit, but this time due to a change in the composition of capital not caused by the development of the productive forces, but rather by a rise in the money-value of the variable capital (because of increased wages) and the corresponding reduction in the proportion of surplus-labour to necessary labour.” 

This crisis of overproduction, can only be resolved by capital overcoming this problem of the relative shortage of labour, and by reducing the amount of necessary labour so as to raise the rate of surplus value. In this, capitalism has an advantage over feudalism, because capital itself has the power to reduce necessary labour-time, by raising labour productivity. This is part of its historic mission. At the point of crisis, capital cannot reduce wages, because it faces a shortage of labour, which causes wages to rise. Capital is forced to invest in the production of new labour-saving technologies. These technologies mean that less labour is required to produce a given mass of output, so that a relative surplus population is created. This excess supply of labour means that wages fall. These new technologies, by increasing productivity, reduce the labour-time required to produce the wage goods required for the reproduction of labour-power. They reduce the value of labour-power, and so increase relative surplus value, so raising the rate of surplus value, and rate of profit, and so overcoming the crisis of overproduction. 

The relative surplus population means that capital can again, now take back some of the concessions it made in relation to the length of the working-day, number of holidays, retirement age and so on. In other words, it can begin to increase the length of the individual day, once more, and thereby to again extract additional absolute surplus value. It can be seen, in the extension of the state retirement age, overturning of reductions in the working-week, reduction in holiday entitlements, requirement for workers, in certain jobs, to be available outside work, to work on laptops etc. on their way to work, and so on.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

On The So Called Market Question - Part 14

Lenin turns to the work of N.F. Danielson, one of the leading theoreticians of these Narodnik ideas. 

“He regards as the greatest “obstacle” to the development of capitalism in Russia the “contraction” of the home market and the “diminution” of the purchasing power of the peasants. The capitalisation of the handicraft industries, he says, ousted the domestic production of goods; the peasants had to buy their clothing. To obtain the money for this, the peasant took to the expansion of his crop area, and as the allotments were inadequate he carried this expansion far beyond the limits of rational farming; he raised the payment for rented land to scandalous heights, and in the end he was ruined. Capitalism dug its own grave, it brought “people’s economy” to the frightful crisis of 1891 and ... stopped, having no ground under its feet, unable to “continue along the same path.”” (p 122) 

We see the familiar dialogue of catastrophism leading to an inevitable collapse of capitalism. A similar catastrophism is presented today, on the basis of the argument that Marx's Law of the Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall, which, founded on this concept that Department I (c) grows faster than the other components of total output, is the cause of crises of overproduction

Lenin notes that Danielson himself is familiar with that very law, although “in view of his faculty for castigating himself with contradictions, he sometimes (cf. p. 123) forgets about that law, but it is obvious that the correction of such contradictions would not in the least correct the author’s main (above-quoted) argument.” (p 123) 

Danielson fails to explain the development of capitalism, and his argument is based on a series of fictions deriving from a romantic notion of the nature of the peasantry as some kind of homogeneous group, and of natural economy as some form of natural path of development which had been departed from. 

“Nothing of the kind exists in reality. Commodity production could not have arisen in Russia if the productive units (the peasant households) had not existed separately, and everybody knows that actually each of our peasants conducts his farming separately and independently of his fellows; he carries on the production of products, which become his private property, at his own exclusive risk; he enters into relation with the “market” on his own.” (p 123) 

Lenin examines Danielson's argument, starting with the claim that the peasants enlarged their crop areas. But, as Lenin points out, its only the better off peasant who can do that. They are the minority, and, in order to cultivate this larger area, they must hire additional labour. The majority of peasants cannot do so. They cannot produce the money they require from their own production, and must increasingly hire out their own labour. 

“Such peasants (and they, as we know, are the minority) do, indeed, extend their crop areas and expand their farming to such an extent that they cannot cope with it without the aid of hired labourers. The majority-of peasants, however, are quite unable to meet their need for money by expanding their farming, for they have no stocks, or sufficient means of production. Such a peasant, in order to obtain money, seeks “outside employments,” i.e., takes his labour-power and not his product to the market.” (p 124) 

At the same time, the wealthier peasant, who can no longer devote time to other domestic production, as they devote all their time to farming, now, instead, buys these products, such as clothes, shoes, etc., as commodities, from the market, and thereby the market is again extended. 

“As to the impoverished peasant, he, too, has to buy footwear; he cannot produce it on his farm for the simple reason that he no longer has one. There arises a demand for footwear and a supply of grain, produced in abundance by the enterprising peasant, who touches the soul of Mr. V. V. with the progressive trend of his farming. The neighbouring handicraft footwear-makers find themselves in the same position as the agriculturists just described: to buy grain, of which the declining farm yields too little, production must be expanded. Again, of course, production is expanded only by the handicraftsman who has savings, i.e., the representative of the minority; he is able to hire workers, or give work out to poor peasants to be done at home.” (p 124) 

In the same way as in farming, the majority of handicraft producers cannot expand production, and themselves becomes wage workers, selling labour-power to the minority that bought up the production facilities. 

“Again we get the impoverishment of the people, the growth of capitalism and the expansion of the market; a new impetus is given to the further development and intensification of the social division of labour.” (p 124) 

The development of capitalism, and the expansion of the market cannot be separated. Trying to do so leads to contradiction and absurdity. But, those that try to do so “break off the investigation with the statement that one of the two phenomena equally unintelligible to them [and, of course, precisely the one that contradicts “the morally developed sense of the critically thinking individual] is “absurd,” “accidental,” “hangs in the air.” 

In actual fact, what is “hanging in the air” is of course only their own arguments.” (p 125) 

In this essay, Lenin has taken on, in more detail, the economic arguments of the Narodniks, in relation to the development of capitalism in Russia. In the next essay, he turns in more detail to the theoretical underpinning of Narodism, in subjective sociology, and its philosophical manifestation as Sismondism

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Absolute Surplus Value - Part 4 of 5

Under feudalism, surplus labour is pumped from the labourer in the form of rent.

“All ground-rent is surplus-value, the product of surplus-labour. In its undeveloped form as rent in kind it is still directly the surplus-product itself. Hence, the mistaken idea that the rent corresponding to the capitalist mode of production — which is always a surplus over and above profit, i.e., above a value portion of commodities which itself consists of surplus-value (surplus-labour) — that this special and specific component of surplus-value is explained by merely explaining the general conditions for the existence of surplus-value and profit in general. These conditions are: the direct producers must work beyond the time necessary for reproducing their own labour-power, for their own reproduction. They must perform surplus-labour in general. This is the subjective condition. The objective condition is that they must be able to perform surplus-labour. The natural conditions must be such that a part of their available labour-time suffices for their reproduction and self-maintenance as producers, that the production of their necessary means of subsistence shall not consume their whole labour-power.”

Rent is the form of surplus value, and this surplus value can only take the form of absolute surplus value. Under feudalism, the method of production remains the same for centuries, so that the amount of necessary labour, required for the reproduction of the labourer, remains more or less constant. In addition, the length of the working-day for the labourer, employed more or less exclusively in agricultural production, is fixed at a maximum by the seasons, and by the amount of natural daylight. So, the only way for the landlord, clergy and state to extract more absolute surplus value is via more labourers, more peasant households paying rent, tithes and taxes. 

Within bounds, any increase in the size of the peasant village commune is catered for by absorbing a quantity of common land into cultivation, so that new households receive their appropriate allotment. Each of these is then an additional source of rent, tithes and taxes. But, a certain amount of common land is required, because the village requires it for grazing, collection of fuel and so on. At a certain point, any increase in population requires a re-division of allotments, each household then having less land. But, the amount of produce that each household requires, remains the same.  The amount of surplus that each household can hand over diminishes. 

Landlords, at certain times, attempt to fight against this by demanding that the peasants hand over a greater proportion of their output, but as Marx describes, the necessary product and surplus product are not some arbitrary amount, but based upon the physical minimum that the peasant requires for their reproduction, and the physical maximum they can produce given the size of their allotment, and so on. If the rents, tithes and taxes eat into the necessary product, then the peasants suffer hunger, they have smaller numbers of children growing into adulthood, and so on, so that the amount of surplus handed over shrinks, as the population shrinks. And, in such conditions, the landlords also face repeated peasant revolts. The only sustainable means of the landlords increasing absolute surplus value is to increase the size of their domain. They do that by fighting wars against other landlords, princes and kings. It is the basis upon which feudalism, in association with a rising merchant class, engages in its process of colonisation

The amount of necessary labour, for each peasant household varies, because each household farms under different conditions. Those households that benefit from better soil, have healthier, stronger members and so on, will produce their necessary product in less time than other households that do not enjoy these advantages. But, the rents they pay will be the same. That means that some peasant households will have higher standards of living; they will be able to have larger families, they will be able to buy additional animals, and as they become available, they will be able to buy tools and implements. As Lenin describes, this is the basis of the differentiation of the peasantry into a proletariat and bourgeoisie, as soon as capitalist production begins to spread from the towns to the countryside. 

Under capitalist production, particularly in relation to industrial production, in the towns, the restrictions on the production of absolute surplus value are lifted. The industrial worker can work all year round, irrespective of seasonal variations; the industrial worker is not restricted by hours of daylight, because they can work by artificial light; the industrial workers are not restricted by available land to farm, because all that is required is a large enough factory, or additional factories. Industrial capital, therefore, begins by expanding absolute surplus value, by an egregious extension in the length of the individual working-day for each labourer. As it increases the extent of division of labour within the factory, it also brings about a simultaneous increase in the intensity of the working-day, as Marx describes, based on the work of Richard Jones, in Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 24. The increased division of labour means that, where the craft worker would have natural breaks in their labour process, as they moved from one task to another, went to collect additional materials, different tools etc., the detail worker stays in one place, uses just one set of tools, and has the work brought to them, so that the elements of down-time in their labour process are continually removed. 

When machine production is introduced, this assumes an even more developed form. In order to maximise the use of machines, capitalists seek to keep them going twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They begin by extending the individual day to a maximum, and they follow it up, with the introduction of shift-working. Although, industrial production lifts the constraints imposed on the length of the working-day in agriculture, it still faces objective limits. Any concrete labour cannot work more than 24 hours in a day, and in practice can only work a portion of that time, because the worker must have time to sleep, recuperate, eat, procreate and so on. If the worker works beyond those limits, their labour-power itself is damaged, the supply of labour is damaged, and the value of labour-power itself rises as a consequence. That means that less surplus value is produced. Another way of extracting absolute surplus value is for the capitalist to increase the speed at which the machines operated by the workers run – speed-up. Similarly, however, the more this intensity of labour is raised, the less extensively the labour can be employed, because otherwise it again becomes worn out. Such methods can only be used when there is a large excess supply of labour that can be used up, such as when large numbers of agricultural labourers flooded into the industrial towns, or following periods of mass unemployment during a period of economic stagnation. 

The normal working-day, is, thereby, objectively determined by these material conditions that set the extent of necessary labour required for the reproduction of the worker, and the optimum length of the working-day, in order to maximise the production of surplus value. Below this normal working-day, capital has the scope to produce additional absolute surplus value, by lengthening or intensifying the working-day. Beyond this normal working-day, capital may create additional new value, and, in the short term, more surplus value, but only at the cost of raising the value of labour-power, and so reducing the amount of surplus value in the longer-term.