[OPE-L:6440] Re: Variable capital and the determination of value

Eduardo Maldonado Filho (eduardo@orion.ufrgs.br)
Wed, 8 Apr 1998 21:20:34 -0300

Chris wrote (re: 4/6/98)

> 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.

Eduardo comments:

No, this is not my argument. Let me try to clarify my argument.
First, let us look the matter from the worker standpoint.

The commodity labor-power (LP), as any commodity, has value and use-value.
Its value is determined by the value of the means of substance (MS): thus
this value is determined prior to exchange takes place. Its use-value is
living labor. It is also important to keep in mind that the selling of LP
consists in its rental to the buyer since the worker keeps the property of
its commodity and only allows the buyer to utilize its use-value, i.e.,
living labor (the selling of LP is similar,say, to the rental of an
According to Marx (Capital, vol. 1, p.174 - International Publishers): "One
consequence of the peculiar nature of labour-power as a commodity is, that
its use-value does not, on the conclusion of the contract between the buyer
and seller, immediately pass into the hands of the former. ... The
alienation of labour-power and its actual appropriation by the buyer, its
employment as use-value, are separated by an interval of time."
Therefore, what the buyer (i.e., the capitalist) gets, what really belongs
to him is labor (thus labor in capitalism is alianated labor).

Let us now look the matter from the capitalist

The capitalist advance his money capital to buy the means of production
(MP) and labor power. In fact, the categories of constant and variable
capital belongs to productive capital - not to money capital. After all,
"the change of value that occurs in the case of money intended to be
converted into capital, cannot take place in the money itself (p.167). in
other words, the (money) capital advanced
to purchase LP is not really variable capital. As Marx defines (p.209)
"...that part of capital, represented by labour-power [i.e., living labor],
does, in the process of production, undergo an alteration of value. It both
reproduces the equivalent of its own value, and also produces an excess, a
surplus-value....This part of capital is continually being transformed from
a constant into a variable magnitude. I therefore call it ... variable
capital." And living labor (or variable capital in action) as concrete
labour creates new use-values and as abstract labour creates new value.

So, I think that my following argument is now more clearly stated:
> variable capital, which exist within the production process as living
> labor, determines the new value incorporated into the commodity
> 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.

Eduardo comments:
I agree with the first sentence but disagree with the second. As I pointed
out, in my view variable capital (it only becomes really variable when
capita-value exists as living labor) belongs to the formation of values.

> 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.

Eduardo commennts:

That is correct. Labor is not value, it is the use-value of the commodity
LP. Therefore labour creates value but it is not itself value. I disagree
only in relation to variable capital. It seems to me that our disgreement
concerns the categoty of variable capital. Whereas for you, as I intrepret,
variable capital is the money advanced to buy LP, for myself it is labor
(the use value of LP) which is really variable capital.