Re: [OPE-L] Why aren't non-labourers sources of value?

From: Ian Wright (iwright@GMAIL.COM)
Date: Thu Apr 07 2005 - 18:23:12 EDT

Hi Nicky, Jerry (and Rakesh, Andy, Phil etc.)

Nicky I cannot agree with you if the following
> Marx's key insight into the social relations of capital is that workers trade their
> labour-power freely.  i.e. the crucial distinction is not between humans, land,
> donkeys etc but between living *labour* and the *labour power* purchased for wages.
is intended to explain why workers are uniquely the cause of surplus-value.

Because if this is the crucial distinction then it appears to follow
that human workers in a dictatorial economy of state-owned firms that
commands and directs what jobs they perform and pays them not in cash
but in real goods are not the cause of surplus-value; hence are not
exploited and have no grounds for complaint; after all the
wage-capital relation, which on this definition is constituitive of
the production of surplus-value, has been abolished, therefore
surplus-value is not pumped out of the producers.

Marx said that capitalist profits are a historical form of
surplus-value, therefore the cause of surplus-value cannot be the
wage-capital relation, otherwise capitalist relations become
synonymous with the presence of surplus-value and exploitation, and
suddenly we have lost the historical materialist approach to history.

Isn't the supposed abolition of exploitation on the grounds of the
abolition of the wage-capital relation alone close to some of the
ideological justifications that have been employed in real command

Also, if this is the crucial distinction then it seems we are
similarly forced to accept that slaves, who do not enter the
wage-capital relation, cannot be the cause of surplus-value and are
therefore not exploited, even though they are human and are clearly
exploited in both in the visceral and the technical, input-output

The logical possibility of machines that get paid a wage is the
obverse of the real actuality of slaves that do not get paid a wage.
Slave labour has been a thorny issue for some labour theories of
value; similarly, wage-machines are also problematic.

> i.e. the crucial distinction is not between humans, land, donkeys etc but
> between living *labour* and the *labour power* purchased for wages.

Hence it appears to follow that future technical progress which
transforms some fixed-capital maintenance costs into wage payments to
self-owning machines will necessitate a revision of Marx's theory of
value to include the possibility that non-human labour is the cause of
surplus-value and therefore exploited when employed in capitalist
firms ... would you accept this conclusion?

I think social relations of production alone cannot answer this. I
think we need to look at the level of the forces of production too:
that is, look at the causal powers of humans in distinction to
machines (and animals), and not just the economic relations they enter

I think Andy has introduced something tremendously important when he
emphasises creativity, and it seems to me that this property is
precisely a forces of production property. Creativity implies
processes of induction and dynamic change, i.e. innovation, something
that static approaches do not deal with. Andy, I will try to respond
to your post when I get the opportunity.


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