[OPE-L:5163] variable capital and circulation workers

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com)
Date: Wed Mar 14 2001 - 07:16:03 EST

Re Howard's [OPE-L:5162]:

> <snip, JL> so
> roads, I take it, represent value the way anything else does -- by the
> proportion of aggregate social labor needed to reproduce them.

Although I want to turn to another issue you raise,
I want to note that I observe a connection between
the above and the issue that will be discussed later
in this post. Namely, an indiference to the
*specific social form*  labor takes in terms of
whether that labor creates value. Of course, it
is true that some proportion of the aggregate
social labor will be required to build roads wether
those roads are built by wage-labor employed by
capital or wage-labor employed by the state. 
The issue, though, is  wether labor employed
in some useful activity -- regardless of its
particular social form -- is productive of value
and surplus value.

Previously I wrote:

> >As for commercial capital proper,
> >I think it is a mistake to speak of variable
> >capital employed by the commercial capitalist.
> >See the long last paragraph of Vol. 3, Ch. 16.

Howard responded:
> Then it is a mistake made by that pesky 19th 
> century economist Steve
> insists on!  See chapter 17.

OK, let's examine this issue. The issue being:
do wages for workers employed by
commercial capitalists represent variable capital?

The pesky 19th Century "economist" [!] states
quite clearly and repeatedly both in Volumes 2
and 3 that (exempting the transport industry and
the storage and dispersal of goods in a 
distributable form which he thinks should be 
viewed as "production processes that continue
within the process of circulation"), the "pure
functions" of capital in the circulation sphere 
produce neither value nor surplus value (see
e.g. the 1st paragraph of Vol 3, Ch. 17): "On 
the contrary, it was shown that the time 
these operations require sets limits to the 
formation of value and surplus-value" (Penguin 
ed., p. 394).  Indeed: "Commercial capital,
therefore, stripped of all the heterogeneous
functions that may be linked to it, such as
storage, dispatch, transport, distribution and
retailing, and confined to its true function of
buying in order to sell, creates neither value
nor surplus-value, but simply facilitates their
realization, and with this also the actual exchange
of commodities, their transfer from one hand to 
another, society's metabolic process" (Ibid, p.

So, there is no doubt that the pesky "economist"
thought that surplus-value was not produced
by wage-earners employed by commercial
capitalists. (There are many more quotations
like the above that I could cite but I will refrain
for the benefit of others as well as myself). 

The problem (Howard is right!) is that the pesky
"economist"  *does* refer to variable capital 
employed by commercial capitalists in Vol.
3, Ch. 17.  In referring to this "variable
capital" he again notes repeatedly that these
workers "do not add any extra value"  and that
"his labour is not value-creating labour". 

Yet, at the same time, he refers to the "unpaid
labour" of commercial workers. Thus, he writes
that "What he costs the capitalist and what he
brings in for him are different quantities. What he
brings in is a function not , of any direct creation 
of surplus-value but of his assistance in reducing
the cost of realizing surplus-value, in so far as he
performs labour (part of it unpaid)" (Ibid, p. 

This enigma is resolved in the following manner:
while "their unpaid labour, even though it does
not create surplus-value, does create his ability
to appropriate surplus-value, which, as far as this
capital is concerned, gives exactly the same result; 
i.e. it is its source of profit" (Ibid, p. 407) and
"Just as the unpaid labour of the worker creates
surplus-value for productive capital directly, so
also does the unpaid labour of the commercial
employee create a share in that surplus-value for
commercial capital" (407-408).

Are you confused? You should be.

On the one hand, the "economist" clearly states
that this labor does not create value and surplus-
value but rather assists in the realization of surplus-
value and thereby the appropriation of a portion of
the aggregate surplus value by the commercial
capitalist. On the other hand, he refers to variable
capital and unpaid labour in this context.

Variable capital has the capacity to create value
and surplus-value. Workers employed by
commercial capitalists do not have this capacity.

Although it appears that commercial capitalists
receive a "profit" it is simply a share of the surplus-
value and profit produced elsewhere. Thus, it 
*appears" that the "profit" of commercial capitalists
has a relation to the "unpaid labor" of commercial
workers. Yet, "unpaid labor" can only make sense
in the context of  where there is surplus value
creation and a distinction between necessary
labor time and surplus labor time.

As far as I can figure, there are only two ways
out of this *m-e-s-s*.  One way would be to claim
that labor which helps realize surplus-value is
productive labor and is paid out of variable capital.
This is a reasonable position perhaps, but I don't
think it is consistent with what this "economist"
wrote elsewhere. The only other way out is
to claim that even though there are similarities
between commercial workers and workers who
are productive of surplus-value, they are
unproductive of surplus-value and that it was
a mistake for that very fallible and human 
"economist" to refer to "unpaid labour" and 
"variable capital" in the context of the drafts
for what later became under F.E.'s editorship
Volume 3. I think that this later position is the
most consistent with the rest of his theory.

What do others think?

In solidarity, Jerry

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