[OPE-L:6422] Variable capital and the determination of value

C. J. Arthur (cjarthur@pavilion.co.uk)
Mon, 6 Apr 1998 17:56:45 +0100

Continuing the exchange with Eduardo (re his of 5/4/98)

>This is a reply to Chris's post of Tuesday, March 31:

>I do not understand. If you agree that living labor is the form assumed by
>variable capital within the production process, then I do not understand
>why you disagree with the conclusion: that variable capital, which exist
>within the production process as living labor, determines the new value
>incorporated into the commodity capital. Perhaps, as you said, it is only a
>semantic misunderstanding.
>But, maybe, we may have a real disagrement in relation to the understanding
>of the concept of variable capital. If you consider variable capital only
>in the sense of money wages (or, alternatively, as the quantity of means of
>substance which is purchased with the money wages), but not as living labor
>within the production process; then there is a genuine disagreement between
>us. In that case, our disageement on the concept of variable capital will
>also show up later on not only in relation to the understanding of the
>concept of composition of capital, but also, for example, in the analysis
>of the effects of price (value) change on the circuit of industrial
>So I am unsure if our disagreement is but semantic misunderstanding.
Chris replies
I am still not sure either. Surely the *only* sense in which variable K
'determines' is that if value is a function of living labour you have first
to buy labour power. Strictly speaking variable capital is therewith
expended as the wage. But you can, if you like and I suspect Eduardo does,
treat the labour power which has been bought in as a bearer of variable
capital. BUT it is surely very important to distinguish those moments of
reproduction that are values already formed from value in its process of
formation. By definition variable K belongs to the former and living labour
to the latter. To emphasize the point Marx in grundrisse calls labour 'not
value', Since we want to avoid an infinite regress whereby value is
determined by value there must be something which is not value out of which
value is created. That something is capitalistically exploited living
labour. It is not variable K, which is in principle a factor return out of
the new value created, i.e. is already value. Of course one can view the
circuit as a flow of forms in which value changes from M to C to P to C
etc. but the moment of P is the 'dangerous' one because here value has
dissolved into use value and is reforming itself in the product. In this
process the variable K 'disappears' and is 'replaced' by living labour so
it no longer 'exists' - contrary to your formulation - consequnetly neither
does its value magnitude determine that of the product, which is surely the
key advance of Ricardo and Marx. Thus only living labour determines that
magnitude. Varaible K is merely both precondition and result of production
but is not itself that out of which value is formed, even though what it
purchases is that whose use value is to yeild that out of which value is
Chris A