Monday, December 17, 2018

Problems of Value Production (2)

The Productivity of Labor

1.  Funny

Evaluating the work of Pierre Proudhon, Marx writes that Proudhon had "a natural inclination for dialectics."  However, as Proudhon never truly comprehended real "scientific dialectics," Proudhon "never got any further than sophistry."  Marx  identifies this sophistry, this substitute for dialectics, as an attempt at "balancing" opposing characteristics, through a formula-- "on the  one hand....while on the other hand" as if there is an equilibrium that can, and should be, achieved between the oppositions rather than a totality of relations that determine the antagonisms, and lead in turn to the overthrow, the negation of the totality. 

It's funny, funny weird and funny ha-ha, that Marx would condense the petty-bourgeoisie substitution for and evasion of dialectics in the two phrases, "on the one hand...while on the other hand," since Marx in his application of rigorous scientific dialectics to political economy frequently, in fact habitually use just those phrases to describe the antagonistic but coincident processes of capital.  How frequently?  Roughly, one thousand times frequently in Capital, in Theories of Surplus Value, in the Grundrisse, and in the other Economic Manuscripts.  About one thousand times, Marx resorts to "on the one hand...while on the other hand" in presenting the totality of relations, expression, repercussions, intrinsic to the reproduction of capital.

In Marx, this OTOH...OTOH isn't employed to reconcile conflicts in the motion of capital.

But "OTOH...OTOH" illustrates the problematic impact of the amplified productivity of labor on the extraction of surplus value that Marx presents in his "economic" works. 

2. Strictly Speaking

Marx maintains, pretty much, the absolute dominion of time for capital.  Value is the representation of labor-time, the alienated, commercial expression of labor-time underlying exchange.  Given that dominion, the increased or amplified productivity of labor is a straightforward concept with a straightforward measure.  It is the increase in the physical output, the mass of product within a set unit of time.  If 500 nails were produced in one labor-hour, then the productivity of labor is amplified by a factor of one hundred when 50,000 nails are produced in one labor-hour.

What the amplified productivity cannot due is increase the amount of new value absorbed by and embedded in the increased mass of commodities.  A labor-hour is a labor-hour is a labor-hour, whether that hour is worked up in 500 or 50,000 nails. 

So where does that leave us for augmenting the extraction of surplus value, for changing the proportion of the working period that is surplus-time, time beyond that required for the laborer to reproduce himself/herself as the wage laborer; time beyond that required to reproduce the value represented by the wage?  

3.  Necessity, relatively

With amplified productivity, the total value is unaltered.  The value, the labor-time, necessary for the reproduction for each individual commodity declines  The commodity is devalued.  Similarly, enhanced productivity of labor can alter the rate of surplus value if (and only if since the total value is unaltered),  the units of labor-power are themselves devalued-- if, and only if,  the wage, the time of necessary labor, falls.

The decline in the time of necessary labor, is the decline in the value of the labor-power, is the decline in the value of the means of subsistence required for the reproduction of the laborer, in the wage. This decline  has to exceed any decline in the the total working hours brought about by these same efficiencies in production, brought about by the improvements in the production process, brought about by the substitution of machinery for labor-power, brought about by the improved productivity of labor itself. 

The individual capitalists, seeing only cost and never surplus-value, strive to increase the productivity of labor, to increase output and reduce costs, driving down the price of the individual commodity.  The social force of capital, the "collectivity" of capital in its ascendancy, seizes control of agriculture, housing, transportation, and shapes these individual efforts into the social reduction, into the devaluation of labor-power.  That devaluation of labor-power alone alters the ratio of necessary to surplus labor-time leading to a higher rate of surplus-value.  The substitution of machinery by itself cannot alter the rate of surplus-value.  Improvements in the division of labor themselves cannot improve the rate of surplus value.  The impact must be social, and the wage is that social expression. 

Productivity improvements in individual enterprises, in specific sectors can become part of the advancement in general social productivity when the necessary time for the reproduction of labor falls; when the wage manifests the reduced value of labor-power.

4.  A thousand points..

If the capitalists see only costs and never surplus-value, and if the amplified productivity of labor does not automatically increase the rate of surplus value, how does the improved productivity serve the accumulation of capital even when the wage does not decline?  Quite simply, the proliferation of use-values acts to expand the arena of capitalist exchange, compelling capital to create new markets, expand old ones, to engage increasing numbers in the processes of exchange, to travel more widely, to penetrate more deeply; to create fifty thousand new points of exchange for its 50,000 new nails every hour.  

And all points of exchange in capitalism ultimately return that primary exchange of capital with labor-power.  The amplified productivity of labor enhances the power of capital to employ new labor-power in new pursuits of new products and new profits as the time required to produce the "old products,"  the "old necessities" is reduced.   To a point, this release of labor-time, and capital, triggers the expansion of capital, the employment of larger numbers working more hours, the production and exchange of new commodities addressing enhanced, expanded needs.  More time can be aggrandized.  More exchanges can be executed. 

5.  On The One Hand, On The Other Hand

Marx seems to be of two minds, and two hands, in his examination of the impact of enhanced productivity, oscillating between the strictest requirements for that productivity to impact rates of surplus-value and the apparently casual acceptance that the application of machinery, automatically accelerates and increases both the labor process and the valorization process.  

OTO(ne)H, Marx writes: 
Both machine and raw material enter into the labour process; neither of them enters into the process of creating surplus-value. –Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 8
If Herr Rodbertus wants to differentiate between agriculture and industry, then that element of capital which consists of fixed capital such as machinery and tools belongs entirely to industry.  This element of capital, in so far as it becomes part of any capital, can only enter into constant capital; and can never increase surplus-value by a single farthing.—Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 8
OTO(ther)H, Marx writes:
With a given length of labour-time, this surplus-value can only be increased by an increase in productivity, or at a given productivity, by a lengthening of the labour-time.—Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 4
On the other hand however, these variations in the conditions of production themselves indicate that labour has become more productive and thus the rate of surplus-value has risen.  For more raw material is now being consumed by the same amount of living labour only because it can now work up the same amount in less time, and more machinery is now being used only because the cost of machinery is smaller than the cost of labour it replaces.  Thus it is a question here of making up to a certain extent the fall in the rate of profit by increasing the rate of surplus-value and therefore also the total amount of surplus value—Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 20
OTOH, Marx writes:
We have shown previously that a general law of the production of commodities decrees: the productivity of labour and its faculty of creating value stand in opposition to one another—Marx, Capital, Volume 2, Chapter 6
OTOH, Marx writes:
The rate of surplus-value remains unchanged in both cases; it changes, however, if any change in the technological composition takes place: it increases if the constant capital increases (because labour is more productive) and declines when it falls (because labour is then less productive).Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 23
OTOH, Marx writes:
The increase in the productive powers of labour, so far as it does not imply an additional investment of capital-value, augments in the first analysis indeed only the quantity of the product, not its value, except the extent to which it is enabled to produce more constant capital with the same labour and thus to preserve its value. But it forms at the same time new material for capital, hence the basis for an increased accumulation of capital—Marx, Capital, Volume 2, Chapter 18
OTOH, Marx writes:
The growth of the productive power of labour is identical in meaning with (a) the growth of relative surplus value or of the relative surplus labour time which the worker gives to capital--Marx, Grundrisse, Notebook 7, The Chapter on Capital
The  proportion in which constant capital enters into a commodity does not affect the values of the commodities, the relative quantities of labour contained in the commodities, but it does directly affect the different quantities of surplus-value or surplus-labour contained in the commodities embodying equal amounts of labour-time--Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 10.

OTOH, Marx writes:
If the productivity in wool spinning is trebled then, provided the conditions of wool production have remained the same, three times as much time as previously would have to be spent, three times as much capital would have to be expended on labour in wool production, whereas only the same amount of the spinners’ labour time would be required to spin up this trebled quantity of wool.  But the rate [of surplus value] would remain the same.  The same spinning labour would have the same value as before and contain the same surplus-value.—Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 9.
6. Resolution

So what are we to make of this?  Is Marx confused, or equivocating, or lost trying to balance the imbalances of capital?  I don't think Marx ever equivocated or was ever lost.  I think the trend of productivity increases coincident with generally expanding industrial employment at the time Marx was writing his Economic Manuscripts (including Capital) allowed him to conflate improving productivity with greater rates of surplus value, when it was the greater mass of surplus value  determining the advance of the mode of production.

It is the period after Marx completes most of his Economic Manuscripts (including Capital), that period known as the "Long Deflation" 1873-1896, when capital manifested the "classic" pattern for increasing the rate of surplus value, with improving productivity dramatically reducing the cost of necessities in turn driving down the value of the labor-power, driving down the wage.

That was then.  This is now.  Now, meaning since 1973, when the reduction in wages has been accomplished not by reducing the value of the labor-power, but by driving the wage below the value of the labor-power,  improvements in productivity are  accompanied by general expansions outside the advanced centers of capital.  In the advanced centers, because the reduction of the wage below the value of labor-power meets resistance well before it reaches its own limits, where improved productivity leads to permanent diminution of the total working hours-- now the improved productivity leads to a condition where less new value is pumped into the networks of circulation; where less surplus value is extracted.

As if to show us how the future of capital unfolding in its immediate condition,  Marx wrote:

But nothing is more fallacious than that, generally speaking, the rate of profit can increase while the amount of capital laid out on labour declines.  Exactly the opposite takes place.  Proportionally less surplus-value is produced, and the rate of profit therefore falls.—Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 24
It is there, in that almost throw-away line, that Marx has grasped the truth of capital and with both hands.

S. Artesian
December 17, 2018

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