Saturday, August 7, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time VIII: Capital, volume one, chapters 6, 7 & 8

Chapter six, the buying and selling of labour power, contains neither "socially necessary labour time" nor "labour time socially necessary." Instead it has a few synonyms:

Suppose that in this mass of commodities requisite for the average day there are embodied 6 hours of social labour, then there is incorporated daily in labour-power half a day’s average social labour, in other words, half a day’s labour is requisite for the daily production of labour-power. This quantity of labour forms the value of a day’s labour-power or the value of the labour-power daily reproduced. If half a day’s average social labour is incorporated in three shillings, then three shillings is the price corresponding to the value of a day’s labour-power.

This passage says no more than that the value of a day's average labour power is equal to the value of the labour time socially necessary to produce the subsistence goods that maintain the labourer. Nothing here about relative surplus population.

Chapter seven, the labour process and the process of producing surplus value, reiterates the determination of value by the socially necessary (average) labour time it takes to produce the commodity and gives the example of spinning cotton into yarn. 

Chapter eight, constant capital and variable, reminds the reader that,

If the time socially necessary for the production of any commodity alters – and a given weight of cotton represents, after a bad harvest, more labour than after a good one – all previously existing commodities of the same class are affected, because they are, as it were, only individuals of the species, and their value at any given time is measured by the labour socially necessary, i.e., by the labour necessary for their production under the then existing social conditions.

It strikes me as odd that in discussing the buying and selling of labour power, and the labour process, Marx omitted mentioning that labour power, like any other commodity, could be produced in quantities larger than the market can stomach, thus resulting in the creation of a relative surplus population or industrial reserve army.

My point is that nowhere in Capital did Marx make the simple and obvious specification of his value theory that the relative surplus population is inherent in the concept of socially necessary labour time. Not in chapters 6 or 7, not in chapters 1 or 3, and not in chapters 15 or 25. Nor in any of the other chapters of volumes one, two or three. Does that mean Marx "changed his mind" sometime after writing the Grundrisse?

Not according to Friedrich Engels, who wrote, in Anti-Dühring Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution In Science:

The fact that the value of a commodity is expressed only in terms of another commodity, and can only be realised in exchange for it, admits of the possibility that the exchange may never take place altogether, or at least may not realise the correct value. Finally, when the specific commodity labour-power appears on the market, its value is determined, like that of any other commodity, by the labour-time socially necessary for its production. The value form of products therefore already contains in embryo the whole capitalist form of production, the antagonism between capitalists and wage-workers, the industrial reserve army, crises. 

Engels's statement is the only time in the entire Marx-Engels Collected Works that the words socially necessary labour, and either industrial reserve or surplus population occur within 100 words of each other -- that is, even after leaving time, army, and relative out of the search! That is remarkable because in the Grundrisse, there are three passages of considerable length that discuss precisely  the inversion in capitalism between superfluous (überflüssig) and necessary (notwendig) labour time and surplus population (i.e., labour capacity). I will discuss those passages in a future post.

1 comment:

Peggy said...

thanks for this unpaid labor time, Tom. It has use value for me. I pray it does for others.