Wednesday, July 06, 2016

An Abiding Interest in Ambiguities of Surplus Value

A friend, who runs the RedMarx forum has suggested using that forum as a common platform by all of us who think we know some thing about Marx somewhat different than some things some others know about Marx.  

Anyway, I'm game, and I thought I take the opportunity to indulge my sense of Marx's ambiguities in the explorations of surplus value.  So what's posted below is also posted over there

I recommend that you, the reader, presuming I have readers, take up the thread, if deemed worthwhile, of ambiguity over there at RedMarx....just to see what happens.  Of course, you are free to respond here, or not respond at all. 

S.Artesian  July 6, 2016

Marx states that relative surplus value can only be amplified by reducing the value of the necessities making up the wage, and thus reducing the value of the wage itself in the reproduction of capital.

He makes it a point to demonstrate that mere reductions in prices of commodities through the applications of more efficient processes, or greater applications of constant capital, do not create additional surplus value, but distribute the same portion of new value over a greater number of use values. "Productivity of labor" as such is, in this instance, defined by Marx as greater output of use values, and does not enhance the aggrandizement of surplus value.

But having argued that, Marx seems to have forgotten this and repeatedly (in the Economic Manuscripts, in TSV, in the Grundrisse) turns to talk about societies that have moved to the point where relative surplus value is the dominant mode of expropriation, and he equates that dominant mode, that transformation to the real subsumption of labor by capital with the extraction of relative surplus value through the application of machinery to the production process.

How are we to reconcile this apparent/real conflict? If machinery cannot impact accelerate the extraction of relative surplus value unless it reduces the value of the wage, how are we to account for Marx's real subsumption of labor; how are we to account for situations where rates of surplus value increase and the value of necessities do not fall; the wages do not fall?

If machinery does increase the extraction of relative surplus value in its enhancement of "general" social productivity, how are we to calculate that relation based on the value composition itself-- which I think we should be able to.

And just to anticipate a response, a response that opens another hugely ambiguous term Marx uses; if someone wants to argue that the application of machinery raises the intensity of labor above the norm, thus leading to greater value produced in less or the same time-- how is that even possible? If time is the measure of value, how do we even measure different intensities, individually or  as constituting something average? If time is the measure of value, how can intensity lead to greater value in the same time period?

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