[OPE-L:4649] Re: RE: Re: Re: Questions

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@MAIL.WESLEYAN.EDU)
Date: Fri Dec 08 2000 - 17:32:07 EST

In response to this passage from me,

>Rakesh, I'd certainly accept the notion that "surplus value" is an
>aggregate category.  A corollary of this understanding is that, whatever it
>is, surplus value has to be attainable by the capitalist class as a whole,
>and not just a subset of the class.

Julian writes:

>Gil, are you saying that all capitalists have to "attain" surplus value if
>any of them are to do so? And what does "attain" mean -- "successfully
>extract surplus value from 'their' workers", or "individually hold on to
>some positive quantity of that extracted surplus"?

No.  I'm suggesting that Rakesh's specification of surplus value as an
"aggregate category" implies the *possibility* that all 
capitalists could appropriate surplus value, not the *necessity* that all
capitalists accrue surplus value.  All I mean to do here is  to anticipate
Marx's Ch. 5 comment that "the capitalist class cannot defraud itself,"
which, if it means anything at all, suggests that surplus value can't be
something that one subset of the capitalist class enjoys at the expense of
another subset.  Thus my comment.  

As for the verb "attain," I used it primarily for its vagueness, because at
this juncture I'm not really trying to insist on anything--rather I'm
trying to find out what the necessary points of difference are in readings
of Marx's argument in Vol. I, part 2.  So please just interpret my response
as indicating that I don't see any necessary point of disagreement in
Rakesh's suggestion that surplus value should be understood as an aggregate

>I don't think I'd agree with any of these, but I suspect I'm adrift here. 

In response to Rakesh's comment,

>>Marx clarifies the distinction between labor power and labor. That 
>>is, the worker is not selling a commodity in which past labor is 
>>embodied; she sells a commodity which exists only in her living self.

I wrote

>I agree that the commodity called "labor power" is itself embodied in
>living people.  But doesn't one's labor power, understood as a commodity,
>embody the labor necessary to reproduce that labor power up to the point of
>exchange? Isn't that necessarily the case in order for this commodity to
>have a value in the same sense that a manufactured commodity has?

to which Julian comments

>Surely not? What you say would be true if labour power was a produced
>commodity, but it isn't -- it's reproduced, and there clearly isn't a
>standard technique.

Marx believed there was:  specifically, that *re*production is just a form
of production.
Quoting him from Ch. 6 (p. 274, Penguin)

"The value of labour-power is determined, as in the case of every other
commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production, and
consequently also the reproduction, of this specific article. In so far as
it has value, it represents no more than a definite quantity of the average
social labour objectified in it."

The sense of this point is that labor power is defined for a given period
of time, and one's ability to work for *each succeeding* work period must
be produced anew, and this maintenance of labor-power requires labor time.
Marx again, same page:

"Given the existence of the individual, the production of labour-power
consists in his reproduction of himself or his maintenance.  For his
maintenance he requires a certain quantity of the means of subsistence.
Therefore the labour-time necessary for the production lf labour-power is
the as ame as that necessary for the production of those means of

I agree with you that the analogy isn't perfect, but it's pretty close:
you need direct and direct labor inputs to create a manufactured commodity.
 You need indirect and direct labor inputs (Marx usually doesn't emphasize
the latter, but it's obviously needed) to create the ability to work for
the next work period.

But again, I'm not really trying to insist on theoretical points here, I'm
just trying to find out points of fundamental difference.  My further
questions about the nature of labor power above were meant to determine if
this was one such point.  

>Moreover, what about labour-power that has been (re)produce outside the
>capitalist economy up to the moment of its first exchange against capital --
>e.g., peasants who turn from subsistence agriculture to industrial wage
>labour.? Your comments would seem to imply that their labour-power has no
value --
>but however low wages may be in such circumstances, the capitalist is
>clearly not going to be able to employ them for nothing.

I don't see this as contradicting the sense of my questions.  Peasants'
ability to work at the point they become wage laborers depends on direct
and indirect labor inputs that sustained them to that point.  These
determine the value of the commodity they newly offer.  But as before, I'm
not insisting on anything definitive here--thus the questions rather than
declarative statements.


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