[OPE-L:3905] Negative Surplus Value

John Erns (ernst@pipeline.com)
Tue, 31 Dec 1996 09:20:23 -0800 (PST)

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Let's try this.

Recall the basic M - C - M'.

When M' > M, the capitalist has garnered
surplus value in the amount of M'- M. So if
the capitalist advances $100 and sells for
$110, he has a profit or surplus value of $10.

Now let's look at the matter when their is a loss or
when M' < M. The capitalist advances $100 and sells
for $90, he has a loss of $10. M'- M = -$10. That
is a negative profit which for me means that
surplus value is negative as well since profit is
but the form of surplus value.

Note I am not speaking of v=0 or c=0 or anything like that.
Here it is simply a question of whether or not s can be less
than 0. Clearly, I would agree that s may be 0. I am
also saying that it can be less than 0. That's it.

Now what is the problem here? I do think you and, perhaps
Allin, want to put labor hours into the picture. Clearly, no
one works for a negative amount of time. Hence, how can
surplus value be negative? Here we need to recall that we
are speaking of social labor in capitalism. The folk that
live in such a society can only deal with labor time via
money. Thus when there is a loss or when one ends up with
less money after production and sale than the amount of money
advanced, one is actually costing society social labor time.
This is not to say that workers did not work a certain number
of hours but simply that for those actual labor hours to
become social we must look at the manner in which capitalism
treats those hours spent in production. Thus, in our "loss"
example, we are simply saying that $100 was advanced. (Let's
say each $1 represents 1 hour.) 100 hours of abstract labor
were thus advanced. But at the end of the production process
the entire advance, with the labor added, is only worth $90
or 90 hours of abstract labor. There is a loss of $10 which
represents a loss of 10 hours of abstract labor. With you
I assume that c and v, both advanced, are positive. Together
they make up the advance of $100. Thus c+v > c+v+s or
$100 > $90 or 100 hours of abstract labor > 90 hours of abstract
labor. How can s be anything but -$10 which represents a loss
10 hours of abstract labor? From where does this loss come?
Clearly, from capital itself. It is shrinking not expanding.

Obviously, this can't continue in capitalism. Indeed, with
the loss the capitalist is encouraged to hoard rather than
continue this process. For us, this can be seen as the
way in which capitalism attempts to check losses not only
in terms of money but also in terms of social labor. Indeed,
for capitalists, it is the only way.

May your abstract labor never generate negative surplus value,