Thursday, 3 January 2013

Capital I, Chapter 17 - Part 4


As Marx says, there are numerous combinations of the variables described above, with any two being variable whilst the third is constant, or all three may be variable. They may vary in the same or opposite directions, intensifying or mitigating the effects of each other by varying degrees. The examples above show how these changes would operate in all these circumstances. Marx sets out two important cases.

A) Diminishing productiveness of labour with a simultaneous lengthening of the working-day.

Marx refers here to those industries whose products determine the value of labour-power. For example, diminishing fertility of the soil raises the price of food, and thereby the value of labour-power.

If the length of working day remained the same, this would mean that surplus value would fall. Suppose a 10 hour working day = £10. If wages equal £5 and surplus value £5, then, if as a consequence of this fall in productivity, wages rise to £6, surplus value falls to £4.

Capital can compensate by lengthening the working day. If the day is raised from 10 hours to 11 hours, wages remain £6, whilst surplus value is restored to £5. However, surplus value has still fallen relative to wages. It was previously 5:5, and is now 6:5, even though surplus value has been restored to its former level.

The proportion between wages and surplus value can be restored by increasing the length of working day even further. If the day is increased to 12 hours, then we have 6 hours necessary labour-time = £6, and 6 hours surplus labour-time = £6. But, now surplus value is higher than it was originally, having increased from £5 to £6.

If the working day is increased further then both the absolute and relative value of surplus value can rise.

Marx notes,

In the period between 1799 and 1815 the increasing price of provisions led in England to a nominal rise in wages, although the real wages, expressed in the necessaries of life, fell. From this fact West and Ricardo drew the conclusion, that the diminution in the productiveness of agricultural labour had brought about a fall in the rate of surplus value, and they made this assumption of a fact that existed only in their imaginations, the starting-point of important investigations into the relative magnitudes of wages, profits, and rent. But, as a matter of fact, surplus value had at that time, thanks to the increased intensity of labour, and to the prolongation of the working-day, increased both in absolute and relative magnitude. This was the period in which the right to prolong the hours of labour to an outrageous extent was established; the period that was especially characterised by an accelerated accumulation of capital here, by pauperism there.” (p 495)

B) Increasing intensity and productiveness of labour with simultaneous shortening of the working-day.

Both increase the quantity of items produced, though, as described earlier, one reduces the value of those items, whilst the other does not. Both reduce the amount of time required to meet the needs of the worker, and thereby increase the amount of surplus value.

If the working day shrank to the minimum now required to produce the workers' needs, surplus labour and surplus value would disappear. That is not possible under Capitalism, whose purpose is the production of surplus value. Marx then describes part of the reality of Socialism by comparison.

Only by suppressing the capitalist form of production could the length of the working-day be reduced to the necessary labour time. But, even in that case, the latter would extend its limits. On the one hand, because the notion of “means of subsistence” would considerably expand, and the labourer would lay claim to an altogether different standard of life. On the other hand, because a part of what is now surplus-labour, would then count as necessary labour; I mean the labour of forming a fund for reserve and accumulation.” (p 496)

Marx expands these ideas in the Critique of the Gotha Programme.

Marx continues.

The more the productiveness of labour increases, the more can the working-day be shortened; and the more the working-day is shortened, the more can the intensity of labour increase. From a social point of view, the productiveness increases in the same ratio as the economy of labour, which, in its turn, includes not only economy of the means of production, but also the avoidance of all useless labour. The capitalist mode of production, while on the one hand, enforcing economy in each individual business, on the other hand, begets, by its anarchical system of competition, the most outrageous squandering of labour-power and of the social means of production, not to mention the creation of a vast number of employments, at present indispensable, but in themselves superfluous.

The intensity and productiveness of labour being given, the time which society is bound to devote to material production is shorter, and as a consequence, the time at its disposal for the free development, intellectual and social, of the individual is greater, in proportion as the work is more and more evenly divided among all the able-bodied members of society, and as a particular class is more and more deprived of the power to shift the natural burden of labour from its own shoulders to those of another layer of society. In this direction, the shortening of the working-day finds at last a limit in the generalisation of labour. In capitalist society spare time is acquired for one class by converting the whole life-time of the masses into labour time.” (p 496)

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Forward To Chapter 18

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