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

From: Nicola Taylor (nmtayl@YAHOO.COM.AU)
Date: Thu Apr 07 2005 - 23:08:01 EDT

Hi Ian,

> 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.

Re your last sentence: In my reading of Marx the labour / labour-power distinction is intended to explain why "workers WHO PRODUCE UNDER CAPITALIST RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION are uniquely the cause of surplus value'.  Marx is clear that political economy neglected to pose this question.  IF it is agreed that Marx set out to analyse the relations peculiar to a unique social form of production (capitalism) -- rather than, say, relations that obtain in all forms of production -- THEN the theoretical concept "surplus value" is a concept that applies only in the capitalist form.  I would go further and say that "value" relations only obtain when goods are produced under captialist social relations. Essential to the capitalist social relation is the labour-capital relation.  This relation requires that capitalists do NOT own or PRODUCE an essential input into production - labour power - and must, moreover convert labour-power into actual labour through a coercive process.

Crucially, in the society you envisage, machines are produced by capitalists for the purpose of reducing costs.  By definition these machines are not 'self owning' in the SAME sense that labour is 'self owning' (i.e. labour power that is NOT produced by capital for purposes of cost reduction).  The problem in the capital-labour relation lies precisely in the fact that capital CANNOT under any circumstances produce human labour-power but must bring labour-power into its orbit.  It is this form of society - where wage-workers are "free" in the very special sense that the production of labour-power is beyond capital - that Marx analyses.

A second point that I think important in understanding 'value' is that Marx does not present a static analysis.  His capital circuit is, rather, a very uncertain process where value does not fully exist hence socially necessary labour time doesn't exist until it is realised in money on competitive markets. i.e. for value to fully exist products must be compared and exchanged for money - i.e. all of production is driven by the need for monetary profits; in this system of social relations does it makes sense to posit socially necessary labour time as a means for equating products in a way that permits monetary measurement.

Where capitalist labour and goods markets do not exist (i.e. in command economies or collective production or slave production) neither value nor surplus value nor socially necessary labour time exist.  By this I mean that the valuation of labour and goods in these non-capitalist societies does not depend on the socially necessary labour time required to produce them.  For example, products harvested from the seashore (like shells) were especially valued by New Guinea highlanders simple because of distance from the sea (nothing to do with equating the labour that went into harvesting shells with the labour that went into hunting).

If value relations (capitalist relations) cease to exist does it mean that exploitation ceases to exist?  Here the answer is yes ONLY IF the concept of exploitation is also taken to be unique to capitalism and wage relations.  However it is equally possible to argue that "exploitation" is a general category applicable to ALL class societies where a surplus product is produced.  In other words exploitation as an explanatory concept is not specific to the historical form Marx is most interested in, and does not cease to exist when value relations cease to exist.

The importance of distinguishing Marx's transhistorical categories from his historical categories -- and what this means for the interpretation of value --has been discussed before on this list (and in the published work of Patrick Murray and Chris Arthur in particular).

My own view is that some sort of valuation of labour and some sort of valuation of goods must be made in all social forms of production, but this valuation depends on capitalist "value" relations only in a fully monetary (non-barter) dynamic (non-static) economy where production depends on the realisation of monetary profits and labour-power becomes labour only after it is purchased on labour markets (for a quantity of money) and extracted successful in the workplace (over a specified period of time).

So, in short, I don't agree with your conclusions.  i) it is possible to theorise exploitation as a phenomenon that occurs in all societies producing a surplus product  while at the same time arguing that the production of 'surplus value' occurs only in capitalist societies.  ii) To argue that 'surplus value' exists only in capitalism does not abandon an historical approach; on the contrary, discovering what is unique to capitalism IS an historical approach, iii) to explain the society you envisage does not require a reworking of Marx's theory of value - it requires a completely different theory.  Marx's theory asks: what are the consequences of a system of production where labour power is NOT produced but must be purchased and coercively subsumbed under the money (ultimately profit) form?  That is not the case in your society of autonomous machines.

Of course this leads to a conclusion that you might agree with: if the sort of society you envisage became general - i.e. if the buying and selling of human labour power (and it's transformation into labour) is elimiated and the robots that people once produced now themselves produce robots that program robots and service robots and make all production decision and produce other robots required to realise these decisions, then Marx's theory would indeed be redundant - the value relations he explains would have ceased to exist.  Wage relations would also cease to exist since human beings would not be earning anything.  Which creates quite a few interesting possibilities for thinking 'creatively' about the forms of society post-capitalism.

What about societies where human wage-labour is still the general case but some limited form of robotic autonomy exists?  Would such a 'mixed' society be like the case where generalised capitalist wage-relations co-existed with pockets of slavery?  How far does Marx's theory apply to such cases?  Thoughts anyone?

Thanks again Ian for this thought provoking thread

Ian Wright <iwright@GMAIL.COM> wrote:
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.


fortiter in re, suaviter in modo

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