Monday, 4 May 2020

Necessary Labour - Summary


  • Necessary labour is the amount of labour the labourer must undertake to produce the value required to reproduce their labour-power. How their labour-power is reproduced depends on the mode of production. Under systems based on direct production, they produce the use values required themselves, in systems based on commodity production and exchange, those use values are produced by others, and bought by the labourer in exchange for their own commodities/money.
  • Labour-power is reproduced by reproducing the labourer themselves, and so means reproducing all of the use values/products/commodities the labourer must consume for that purpose. As labourers themselves have a limited lifespan, it includes the use values/products/commodities required to produce the next generation of workers. In other words the labourers must have sufficient of these products to enable them to procreate, and raise children to replace them.
  • The use values/products/commodities required to reproduce the labour-power of the labourer themselves comprise two types of labour – past congealed labour, and immediate living labour. The first takes the form of raw materials consumed in production, or of tools and equipment used for production. These are things produced by past labour, whose value is transferred to the value of current production. The second is the amount of labour currently undertaken utilising those tools and equipment, to process the raw materials into products/commodities that the labourer must consume to reproduce their labour-power.
  • The necessary labour undertaken by the labourer must produce enough value so as to reproduce both of these types of labour – congealed labour and current labour – that comprise the value of the products they must consume to reproduce their labour-power. In systems of direct production the value they create (individual value) is inseparable from the use values they produce. In producing the use values they must consume, they, also, simultaneously, produce the value of those use values, required for their reproduction. In systems of commodity production and exchange, value becomes separable from use value, and then takes the form of exchange-value, the most obvious manifestation of which is money. In such systems, the labourer only needs to produce enough value, in the commodities they produce, so as to be able to exchange them for the use values required for the reproduction of their labour-power.
  • Any labour undertaken by the labourer in excess of necessary labour is surplus labour. It is the basis for the creation of a surplus product, and of surplus value.
  • Necessary labour should not be confused with socially necessary labour-time. The former is the amount of labour required to reproduce the specific use value/product/commodity labour-power. The latter is the amount of labour-time required to produce any commodity. It is the specific nature of the commodity labour-power, whose consumption takes the form of the act of labour itself, i.e. the value creating process, that makes it different from all other products/commodities, because, in this act of labour, it can create a surplus value, by undertaking surplus labour, i.e. labour in excess of what is required for its own reproduction.
  • Suppose Robinson Crusoe can live on fish alone, and requires 5 fish a day to reproduce his labour-power. It takes him 5 hours to catch these fish, so that his necessary labour is equal to 5 hours. However, he decides to undertake 8 hours of labour, thereby, creating 8 hours of new value, represented by 8 fish. The value of his labour-power is the five hours of necessary labour. He creates eight hours of new value, so that he has produced 3 hours of surplus value, by undertaking 3 hours of surplus labour. In his society of 1, and where he also demands the use value of these three additional fish, the socially necessary labour-time required for the production of the eight fish is eight hours.
  • If Robinson undertakes this surplus labour for two days, he produces enough fish to be able to eat on the third day without fishing. He can use this day to produce a fishing net to assist his labour. It takes him eight hours to produce, and will last him for 80 days. Now with the use of the net, he catches the five fish required to reproduce his labour-power in just 2 hours, but he must now also set aside 0.8 hours of his working day of 8 hours, to reproducing the value of his net. His necessary labour then falls to just 2.8 hours, leaving him with 5.2 hours of surplus labour. The socially necessary labour-time required to produce the eight fish, he previously produced in eight hours, now also falls to 4.48 hours. Put another way, if he spends the whole eight hours catching fish, he will catch 14, so that he has enough fish to last him almost for three days without fishing. He can then use these days to produce other things. He can accumulate additional means of production and consumption.
  • In the case of Robinson, he divides his one and only labour into 2 hours of necessary labour required to catch the fish required to reproduce his labour-power, and 0.8 hours of necessary labour required to reproduce the wear and tear of his net, consumed in the production of the fish required to reproduce his labour-power. The same applies to the working-class as a collective labourer. If there are 1 million such labourers, they need to devote 2 million hours to labour actually catching fish, and 0.8 million hours producing nets. But, they can achieve this by having some workers do nothing but catch fish, and other workers do nothing other than produce nets.
  • If these 1 million workers work an 8 hour day, it means that the total social working-day is 8 million hours. Of this 2.8 million hours, whether spent catching fish or producing nets, constitutes necessary labour, leaving 5.2 million hours as surplus labour/value.

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